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“Helga's Folly will always be one of our fondest memories of Sri Lanka”
Review of Helga's Folly

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Helga's Folly
Ranked #22 of 54 Hotels in Kandy
Denver, Colorado
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
“Helga's Folly will always be one of our fondest memories of Sri Lanka”
Reviewed March 27, 2011

Just up the hill from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka sits Helga's Folly. A place out of the ordinary with character and style, ant colonies and colonial charm, great service and delicious food, barking deer and leaky pipes, murals, macaques, music, mirrors and mise en scene.

We (my girlfriend and I) arrived in CMB at 9:30 am. Lionel, our driver was waiting at the airport and took us directly to Helga's Folly. Lionel would be our guide for the next three days, going everywhere Helga suggested and stopping anywhere else we asked along the way. Made it to the hotel in about 2-3 hours I think.... I was kind of out of it after 30 hours of travel. The ride was nice and easy despite the four way rally race going on between buses, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cows, cars, bikes and pedestrians. No hassles, no waiting, no stopping and the A/C was nice and cool.

Entering Helga's Folly was like stepping into a dream. It was as if we were the only two people there. I spent a lot of time walking around, staring at the walls. No hallucinogens necessary. We had dinner and breakfast there for the duration of our stay. The food was delicious. Soup, biscuits, dhal curry, fish, tea, brownies and ice cream. Breakfast was tea, biscuits, fresh fruit and juice, an omelet with chiles, roasted tomatoes and magical mushrooms! Again, no tripping, just really tasty mushrooms. The staff was always there for anything, but they were never pushy or obtrusive. The place had a private, romantic feel to it, and the candle light dinners really take it a step further. Eat your breakfast inside, unless you want it stolen by the local entourage of Toque Macaques. Also, don't leave anything on the porch overnight. If they get to it before you wake up, it's gone.

Each room has it's own charm and character and the halls are filled with murals that are interesting, playful, funny, and a little creepy at times. Our room was vibrant, cozy and weird. The walls were bright green with artistic accents and the bed had a black mosquito net. Our bed was big and comfortable, the A/C was plenty cool, and the shower had the only consistent hot water of our whole trip. I found the place to be quite clean considering how old and big it is. The pool was clean, peaceful, and secluded. On our last night, Helga invited us to paint something on our bedroom wall. She provided us with paint and we had the pleasure of adding to the Folly's visual history.

We truly had an experience we will never forget. If you are traveling on a really tight budget, or you are looking for a “modern luxurious retreat”, you may want to keep searching. If you want an experience you will never forget at a place like no where else in the world, I suggest Helga's Folly. Helga and her staff went above and beyond. Pointing us in all the right directions and making us feel like family. We got engaged on the second night of our stay! Helgas' Folly was instrumental in the process. Helga helped orchestrate and Lionel and the rest of the staff helped facilitate. From distracting my fiance' with an Aeruvedic massage and waiting for three hours while I picked out a ring to the sincere anticipation of the verdict, they really went the extra mile. They set the stage for the first scene of our lives and exceeded my expectations in doing so. Pretty sappy, I know, but the place brings it out in me. We had a hard time leaving and when we finally did we kept saying “I wish we were still at Helga's”.

Helga's Folly is not your average hotel or guesthouse. It is a historic landmark. It is a family. It is the set of a movie. A Goth-Victorian romance directed by Tim Burton and starring.....you. It is a constantly evolving canvas. It is a place to rest and to be inspired. It is a creative oasis in a world of sterile, boring, repetitive hotels. It is a work of art.

  • Stayed March 2011, traveled as a couple
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4 Thank dzentzart
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Newbury, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
8 reviews
7 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
Reviewed March 25, 2011

Well, Helga's Folly certainly gets people opinionated! They either love it or hate it. We fall into the "love it" category but can understand that it would not necessarily appeal to someone used to staying in antiseptic and characterless chain hotels. Helga herself is a charming, if eccentric, lady and the hotel reflects her character. The staff are friendly and helpful, and if things take a little time that is no different to anywhere else that we stayed in Sri Lanka. Take your watch off and go with the flow. Yes, the monkeys disconnect the water supply ta regular intervals so there may be no hot water in the shower and some of the decor is reminiscent of a seventies London nightclub, but isn't that what the travel experience is all about? If you want predictability then Helga's and Sri Lanka is not for you - why not try a Holiday Inn in Florida? If you are relaxed and accept that things in Sri Lanka are (thankfully) a litle different to Diddlibo, Idaho then you will love Helga's!

  • Stayed February 2011, traveled with family
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1 Thank IanMax
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Singapore
Level Contributor
70 reviews
14 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 53 helpful votes
Reviewed March 14, 2011

The Helga's Folly website promises much but in reality delivers very little. If you want way-out whacky (or whimsical", as they call it, and you don't mind paying over the top for it then it is worth a considering - otherwsie stay well clear. Rocky Horror meets Alice in Wonderland featuring The Adams Family sums it up. The hotel is interesting but equally shoddy. The much talked about food was very average. The view...what view? Whilst probably expecting guests to get away from the office thi is the 21st century and i would have expected the advertised wireless internet did not work in my room...the same going for the hot water tap in the bathroom! A miscommunication when checking out led me to believe, briefly, that my two nights had cost US$152. At that price it might just have been worth it. At the US $152 PER night (B&B) that i paid it most certainly was not worth it. The one (and only one) positive was the extremely helpful, polite and friendly staff.

  • Stayed March 2011, traveled with friends
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Thank IainMacpherson
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
3 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed March 7, 2011

I have stayed at Helga`s 4 times now and this time took my friends who were all keen to see what I raved about! This is no ordinary hotel, but if you like wonderful surroundings with genuine antique furnishings (tea in silver tea pots, Edith Piaf singing in the background and `Miss Haversham` candles and dripping wax) then you will enjoy your stay. Wind your way along hand painted corridors to a swimming pool surrounded by trees and fairies and come down to the best glass of wine I`ve found in Sri Lanka. After a delicious dinner, make your way to bed in a crown topped four poster. An experience not to be missed!
Deirdre Maxwell

  • Stayed February 2011, traveled with friends
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Helpful?
2 Thank deirdre2506
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Cancun, Mexico
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed February 26, 2011

Don't stay here if you want conventional normalcy on your walls, in your hotel rooms. This is not a hotel. Boutique hotel does not cut it, either. Menagerie might begin to describe what it's like: twists and turns in colors, surprising staircases, wall coverings, furniture, fixtures. Food was fabulous and reasonable in cost. Fun. Important part is herself, Helga: eccentric, eclectic, personable and understands life is too short to not be who you are. She truly enjoys meeting and conversing with her guests, welcoming them into her space. This would be a place the kids would remember forever, perhaps in dreams.

  • Stayed February 2011, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank Skizmorp
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Vermont
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
Reviewed February 23, 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, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank TMLDTD
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
london
Level Contributor
2 reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 3 helpful votes
Reviewed January 28, 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, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank albidongas
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

Property: Helga's Folly
Address: 70 Rajaphilla Mawatha, Kandy 20000, Sri Lanka
Location: 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 (Based on Average Rates): $
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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