Helga’s Folly: the “anti-hotel” on a hilltop in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Other than cuisine and learning about new cultures, a big highlight of traveling for us is seeing unique sights that we don’t see every day here at home. Off the top of my head, some of the most quirky and memorable sights we have seen were the World’s Largest Pistachio in New Mexico, the bubble gum wall at Pike Place Market in Seattle (yes, it was definitely gross), the Canadian Potato Museum in Prince Edward Island, and the Catacombs in Paris. We can add another site to that quirky list: Helga’s Folly, the “anti hotel” in Kandy!

While researching our visit to Kandy, I came across this recommendation as a place to either have a quick snack or a meal in a “unique” setting. While you can certainly book accommodation here, I think the real charm is in being in the hotel for a bit to observe all the unique artwork and decor. Helga’s Folly is considered an “art nouveau” boutique hotel, outfitted in a mix of traditional Sri Lankan and Dutch decor and furniture, with rooms covered from floor to ceiling in hand-painted murals, glass and tile mosaics, and newspaper and magazine clippings. No inch of the place is spared of some eccentric jungle, ghost, or godly mural, or some sort of glass or ceramic decor. There are skulls and skeletons every which way you turn. Massive candelabras covered in what looks like years and years’ worth of wax are strategically positioned every ten or so feet you walk.

This hotel was originally a mansion owned by the famous De Silva family. Edmond Frederick Lorenz De Silva was a popular Sri Lankan politician who was the former Sri Lankan ambassador in Paris. Once his daughter Helga inherited the property, she converted it into a hotel and renamed it “Helga’s Folly.” She spent a lot of time hand painting and decorating the entire place herself as a form of therapy to move on from the suicide of her first husband, and the unhappy marriage to her second. It is known to be one of Kandy’s very first hotels. Many famous people have stayed there, including Vivien Leigh and Mahatma Gandhi (!), who was apparently a family friend of the De Silvas.

As soon as we entered, I knew this place would be creepy. There was no one at the front desk, and most of the lights were either dim or off completely. We stopped by as a respite from the pouring rain (we were traveling during monsoon season, after all), and we had tea, juice, an omelet (which was originally meant for Pookster, but she refused it), homemade bread rolls, and some really delicious and crunchy ginger snaps. The tea was served in a very grand, silver, antique rotating teapot, which I had never seen before, but was completely amused by when using it. It was a nice rest from the rain, and a good time to let Pookster roam around relatively freely.

But we made the mistake of accidentally leaving behind her baby drinking cup, so the next day, we had to come back to retrieve it. We called to ensure the cup was still there and had an Uber driver take us back up the hill. I went into the hotel myself to fetch the cup. But this time, literally no one was in there. No sounds could be heard. Every single light was off, though the front door was wide open. I walked up the stairs to the dining area, where I knew the kitchen was by, and called out about five times. I waited at least two minutes before anyone responded and came out to greet me, but that two minutes felt like an eternity, surrounded by all these creepy skeletons, black walls with ghoulish murals, and musty newspaper clippings from the 80s and 90s. I could feel myself getting a slight chill over my body, despite the fact that it was so hot and humid outside. When someone came out with a smile and presented the cup back to me, I immediately took it, thanked him, and dashed out.

It is no wonder that place is said to be haunted or possessed. I would NOT be comfortable sleeping overnight there for many, many reasons. I do hope it survives, as it’s definitely very kitschy and has an interesting story, but eeeek.

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