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“Zany murals, candles, monkeys, great food, smiley service, delightful hostess, it's Kandy's most interesting attraction”
Review of Helga's Folly

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Helga's Folly
Ranked #25 of 56 Hotels in Kandy
Reviewed 24 February 2011

Madam Helga herself just wrote me a couple emails answering a question I had regarding a “deliciously” (her word) -scented flowering plant she had showed us in her garden that I’m hoping to find for my home in Bangkok; she wrote back right away and told me it’s called night-blooming Camellia or Queen of the Night, gave me some pointers for growing it, and offered to give me a cutting from her plant. I don’t think I’ve ever heard from the owner of a hotel again after I’ve left, except in the form of a promotion, much less gardening advice, but that’s the kind of experience Helga’s Folly is. And it is an experience. It’s not really just a place, but rather a journey through the looking glass to another world, an eccentric, quirky, gracious, sometimes weird, and strangely enchanting world. She asked me to write a review here and say exactly what I thought of that world, “warts and all”, emphasizing the “warts” as if it were a matter of pride. She also mentioned that she has recently monkey-proofed the hot water system. She was concerned during my stay that I found the sometimes cold showers annoying, but I actually thought it rather amusing to have to wait for the mischievous monkeys I could hear running around above me on the roof to stop playing with the pipes before I could step under the shower head again. I suppose some would think Helga’s resident troupe of monkeys to be one of the warts, but to me they were great fun. I saved my bananas from breakfast for them every morning, feeding them out on the terrace whose balustrade is decorated with metal monkey mask reliefs. Everyone has a different sense of fun, and because Helga’s Folly is all about fun and has such a peculiar and unique way of expressing and enjoying it, I can understand why some people might just not get it. Some people don’t even like real funhouses. Hence the few negative reviews here. All in all, I am of Helga’s perspective that when you take it as a whole, the warts are part of the fun.

I arrived at Helga’s folly at 4AM after a long flight and drive. The driver had to honk the horn a couple of times to wake someone up to let me in out of the rain. A sleepy and slightly alarmed-looking man in a rust-colored sarong appeared and took my suitcase, showing me directly up the stairs (a large green frog perched on the banister croaked as I climbed by) to my room. The halls were dark and damp, and a couple of old baby cribs were stored on the landing, as if in an old abandoned maternity ward. The dim hanging lamps illuminated the dozens of murals on the doors and peeling plaster walls along the hallway; the life-sized man painted directly opposite my room was later to startle me more than once by staring back when I opened the door. I entered my bright green room painted with butterflies, seagulls, and another life-size man, this one in a turban and playing the flute under an enormous tree that spanned two walls. Shiny bright red, orange and purple satin curtains woven with gold thread covered the French doors onto the balcony. At that hour of the morning, half asleep, it was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure yet whether I liked the place or not, but I was too exhausted to care. I pulled back the black lace mosquito net and collapsed onto the four-poster bed.

It wasn’t until the next day that I got to have my fun exploring the house and grounds. While I liked the “management cannot be responsible for the monkeys” sign and the direct link on my phone to “Managing Director, Helga de Silva Blow Perera”, I think it was the fairies protecting the swimming pool that really won me over.

Exploring the whimsically and sometimes crazily decorated rooms and halls is an adventure in itself, and the highlight of my time in Kandy. I felt like one of those wide-eyed kids in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory and could hardly wait to discover the delights to be found down the next dark corridor. It turns out the colorful and occasionally zany murals on every wall were a bit of art therapy for Madam Helga during a difficult time, and created by her and an art student intern during a few months’ fit of creative energy. Although I enjoyed Kandy and the local sites such as the Temple of the Tooth (or the “dental temple” as my friend insisted on calling it) very much and found the people friendly and engaging, I looked forward to returning back “home” every evening eagerly. I liked hanging out at Helga’s more than just about anything I did while in Sri Lanka.

I loved the evening there as it grew dark and the candles shimmered in the dozens of mirrors, relaxing in the lounge to the songs of Frank Sinatra with an arrack and soda. There’s an enormous scrap book that guests are encouraged to draw in or leave a message. People were incredibly creative, and some clearly spent serious time on it. I spent a whole night looking through that book after dinner.

It was the best restaurant I tried in Sri Lanka. The red curry was delicious, and the coconut soup served in its own shell was among the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t know soup could be that good. The service, all performed by men clad in rust sarongs, some of whom have worked there for decades, was courteous and affable. “Smiley” is how one guest correctly described them. The glowing candlelit atmosphere is something between Ann Radcliff and Lewis Carroll. Someone in an earlier review here mentioned Miss Havisham, and I think that’s about right. You do expect some crazy old spinster aunt in a faded ball gown to be haunting the halls, though someone with Miss Havisham’s tragic scheming nature could never live in such a living, happy house.

In fact, Madam Helga is delightful. From the photos I’d seen of her beforehand, I had expected a somewhat bizarre over-the-top theatrical character dramatically blowing in and out of rooms to make a noisy scene, but she’s actually quite soft-spoken and, though she makes a nightly habit of conversing with her guests, she seems even a little sweetly shy. If she weren’t wearing an exotic kimono and oversized sunglasses at night (how does she see with such dim lighting?), she would seem rather modest and unassuming. She has the manner and manners of the best kind of unpretentious royalty who know that real politeness is about making people feel comfortable and not about putting on a grand show. It’s no wonder she has so many true fans, even people writing rock songs about her. One evening she told me she had just returned from a talk about conserving elephants and had a laugh at how she had absent-mindedly worn just the wrong family heirloom, showing me her large ivory bracelets. People who enjoy poking fun at themselves always win me over.

“Helga” has become a new adjective for my friend and me, as in “that is very Helga”: fun, offbeat, colorful, charming, eccentric, creative, alive. And a few dozen other words, all affectionate.

Yes, the house possess a few cobwebs that add to the gothic feel, and the continual rains in Kandy make the place a little musty. Some of the facilities are faded or in disrepair, some of which so strange that I couldn’t imagine what their original use ever could have possibly been. But that’s how things are in Kandy. A friend of mine who lived in Kandy for years said he had a staff of three continually fighting off the mold and mildew in his tiny house, and only just barely managed to keep the place from completely collapsing. Sri Lankans seem to take a more casual attitude about cleanliness than some people might be used to. Just don’t look too close and enjoy the big picture, and it will be just fine, as well as beautiful and interesting.

I must admit that after three nights there, I was looking forward to staying in my next hotel, a nice “normal” understated place, but when I got there, I found the gleaming marble walls and floors and the stark modern décor extraordinarily cold and dull. Where were all the candles? What happened to the family portraits and newspaper clippings? Why wasn’t the toilet cabinet covered in glazed-over fashion magazine clippings? Why did I have to eat mediocre warmed-over buffet breakfast instead of my freshly squeezed fruit juice and made-to-order omelet with extra chilis? How come Hindu gods didn’t leer at me in the halls? And where were all the monkeys turning my shower on and off? I had been gone from Helga’s Folly only one day and was homesick already. I still am a little bit.

But I took some of Helga’s Folly with me. I light more candles than I used to, and I listen to a lot more Ink Spots and Edith Piaf. I’m also Helga’s newest Facebook friend.

  • Stayed: February 2011, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank TMLDTD
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 28 January 2011

We travelled to Sri Lanka on Dec 28 2010 and planned to have our wedding at Helga's. We decided to stay with Helga for 4 days to relax into the 'vibe' of the house.
This is like staying at a very oppulent, slightly eccentric and wonderfully quirky HOME! As Helga says it is 'an anti-hotel' and I guess it's more home than hotel but this is what made it so special for us. We were truly made to feel like part of the family by the wonderful staff and felt very sad when the day came to leave. So...our wedding..well the wonderful Helga herself could not have been more welcoming and actually organised the whole wedding for us. We were arriving from London and not at all sure what our wedding would entail having left it to Helga to organise. We were so happy to find that Helga has plenty of experience in organising a traditional Sri Lankan weddings and that everything was perfect! We had an eleborately dressed huge elephant to ride to the hotel accompanied by a troupe of drummers and dancing girls in traditional costume! A Buddhist monk had come to marry and bless us and all was presided over by the official registrar who left us with the legal documents for our marriage.Helga had also organised cake and bubbly as a treat and we were given an exclusive part of the hotel for a romantic dinner together. All in all it surpassed our expectations and was an event we will never forget. My wife was very happy indeed.
Helga's is a holiday that you can't find anywhere else that I know of? The staff are like family, the house steeped in history, Helga an elegant and beautiful host and a truly magical stay. I recommend a few days to get the feel. If your a typical 5 star traveller that needs everything just so, then you should stay with the big chain hotels. Helga's is for the more wordly, artistic and romantic of mind. An enchanting experience and thank you Helga for our beautiful wedding!

  • Stayed: January 2011, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank albidongas
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 28 January 2011

Wondeful ! I am writing this review Just having returned from a magical stay at Helga's Folly. Perched high above the historic city of Kandy like a fragment of some wonderful, twisted beautiful dream, it was a stay we won't forget in a hurry. We arrived aftera long tedious drive from Colombo to be welcomed by a glass of mulled wine and treated to impeccable hospitality. The moment we arrived we drifted into another world, another more civilised time. A true treat for incurable romantics everywhere yearning for an escape from the maddening crowd - the only drawback was that it was hard for us to our selves away from the magical spell. The star of the experience for us was Helga herself an unlikely combination of "Swinging London" and gothic Kandyan queen.
The food was also some of the best we had in Sri Lanka. The decor is not for the fainthearted or your average business traveller (the painted bath tubs may be touch too far ) but if like your fantasy gothic and your romance full blooded set in a tropical eden - this is the place for you !

  • Stayed: January 2011, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank princepragas
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 January 2011

First and foremost...this is NOT a boutique hotel so if you are looking for that this is not the place for you!

If you're looking for a place that is wildly eccentric, full of travelers that also like "quirky" accommodations this is the place for you. Also, there are monkeys everywhere!

One of the biggest draws is the owner of this establishment, Ms. Helga de Silva Blow Perera. This woman is full of stories, she's attentive, and an overall lovely woman. I traveled here alone (I was there for New Years Eve and a few days after) and I was made to feel like the the Folly was my home. (Before I arrived Helga and I had been corresponding via email and she greeted me like we were old friends when I arrived.)

If you're looking for a high end/turn down service/spa kind of experience this is not your place. But if you want to stay somewhere where you're guaranteed to have a few good stories to tell when you get home this is perfect!

  • Stayed: January 2011, travelled solo
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3  Thank missbrooklyn75
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 18 December 2010

Just got back from best trip we've ever had. Started at Helga's Folly. Found it accidentally online and was truly one of the best experiences ever. While may not be for you if you are looking for a traditional, everyday experience - but is for anyone who appreciates a little bit of escapism and eccentricity. You could spend your entire stay learning the history of the actual hotel and reading the walls - or sit and chat with Helga ... food was some of the best we had on our entire journey and staff was amazing. Surroundings are fantastic and location just perfect. Will be an experience to never be forgotten. Do your homework and make sure that you know what to expect!

  • Stayed: December 2010, travelled as a couple
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5  Thank kerriann18
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 15 December 2010

We had a lovely and absolutely fascinating time in Helga's Folly. The service was fantastic including a very personal touch by Helga herself who is very hands on and even called us to say goodbye when we checked out early. The decor is unlike anything i have ever seen. Utterly fascinating and choc full of curios and memorabilia. We spent a full evening studying walls and looking at photographs whilst music played from the grammophone. The food was outstanding and every cup and plate was designed to within an inch of it's life. We ate on the balcony watching Kandy twinkle below us. Our room followed the theme of the rest of the hotel, with handpainted murals and outlandish design. However, the bathroom was quite tired and a few things were broken. We only stayed one night so did not complain but filled out the feedback form. We received a personal email from Helga a couple of days later asking us for more details so she could resolve the issue. I was very impressed by this and respected this approach.

Overall, this is an utterly unique experience which i highly recommend (but take a superior room to get the full benefits).

  • Stayed: October 2010, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank SophieW5
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 7 December 2010

I stayed with Helga in her home for 10days during the month of September, where to begin, from the moment i arrived I felt like I had been removed from society's 'reality' and taken into a magical, sureal wonderland, to a place where i was encouraged to let go of inhabitions and express myself through art.

The 'anti-hotel' as I quite agree it should be known as is unlike any other residence I have had the pleasure staying at. First of all the location is great, within walking distance to Kandy town, yet far enough so if i felt i wanted escapism from city life then i could look outside and feel i was in some other world, lost in the beautiful nature of Sri Lanka's hill country.

The decor at Helga's is very fitting, its more like a gallery of art and photographs, I was encouraged to spent my time reading the walls and it was doing this with the guidance of Helga herself that i learned about the facinating history of the house, I found it very easy to loose myself in the art and the stories that the rooms held. I believe if walls could talk, a milion wonderfully eccentric and facinating stories could be told.

I was very well taken care of by everyone invoved at Helga's Folly, Not only from Helga and her husband but also from the room attendants to the recetionist and of course the kitchen staff, who not only prepared me wonderful food from the menu, but also on request prepared me special dishes to suit my dietry needs.

I loved spending time at Helga's Folly, I felt more like a friend invited into a home than a guest at a hotel. Helga herself made a point of making sure i was comfortable and i was being looked after well.

At night the house is transformed into a magical world with everything sparkling by candle light, which suits the ambience, with old Jazz playing in the background I felt i had been transported into another realm. The house became so romantic. it was easy for me to loose myself in the house, forget where I was in the world, with the wonderfully secluded out door pool (which i was told is protected by fairies) to the private cinema, where i curled up on the rainy september evenings with tea and snacks.

I believe myself to be a widely travelled individual and i have came across many hotels and house stays on my previous trip, but I can honestly say my time at Helga's Folly was one of a kind, i believe this place is a truely special experience, not a place for travellers looking for the modern boutique hotel stay, but instead i would reccommend a stay at Helga's for the people who want something different, a unique experience, something magical, to stay at a place where anything is possible, and anything goes...a place you can really let yourself go and may possibly end up painting the walls ;)

  • Stayed: September 2010, travelled solo
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6  Thank gypsythistle
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Helga's Folly

Address: 70 Rajaphilla Mawatha, Kandy 20000, Sri Lanka
Region: Sri Lanka > Central Province > Kandy District > Kandy
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beverage Selection Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Restaurant Room Service Swimming Pool Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
#6 Romantic Hotel in Kandy
#8 Family Hotel in Kandy
Price Range: £65 - £110 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:2.5 star — Helga's Folly 2.5*
Number of rooms: 15
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
HF is just a Sri Lankan’s home with some history and color, backed by jungle, and if expecting a regular hotel experience, best go elsewhere.... quite a different concept to a normal hotel. Please be assured that you should be interested in our hospitality, we will be delighted to assist you..Thank You ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Helga`s Folly Hotel Kandy
Helgas Folly Kandy
Helgas Folly Hotel Kandy

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