There is a place in this world for true beauty, and truth be told, I have a massive crush on Sankara. Walking into Mui Ne’s newest venue, you gasp in awe and your heart passionately races. You have the urge to whip out a camera and photograph every billowing white drape, every sensual pool of water, every soft shift of rainbow lights against the palm trees. With reverence, you walk down the wide white marble floor, past the first reflecting pool and glowing golden-lit bar, past the art-splashed restroom doors, past the rounded white chairs, all the while gazing at the ocean and sand through the far columns and feeling the open sky above you. You are moved by beauty.
So how did this work of art emerge, amid the surf huts, generic resorts, and governmental bureaucracy of Vietnam’s southern shore?
Helen Pistolas and her best friend, Henry, had been vacationing in Mui Ne, Vietnam from Ireland for many years, and realized that there was a gap in the town’s venues. There were fish restaurants, surf bars, and stuffy hotels, but there was no internationally classy yet relaxed, beautiful yet approachable place to chill out or dance. Over the course of four years, Helen, Henry, and their friend Kamal painstakingly put together the millions of pieces and hundreds of people that would create Sankara.
“We approach everything about Sankara with love,” explains Kamal. “Put that energy in, and it shows.”
The word “Sankara” is Sanskrit for “a fusion of energy”. Truly, it is an appropriate name for the venue, given the swirled worlds that melded to make the project work. “It takes two people who are best friends to come up with this crazy idea,” said Kamal, “best friends like Helen and Henry. Sankara doesn’t make sense on paper. It takes the passion of everyone involved to breathe it into life. And that’s why most of us are here– for the love of the project.”
A whopping sixty people are now employed by Sankara, and over fifty of those are Vietnamese locals. To round out this international staff is the joyful Spaniard, Nino, and the handsome Californian, Greg (pictured right), who was recruited from the hammock of a guesthouse across the street to become Sankara’s head chef instead of finishing his backpacking trip around Asia and Australia. The foodservice this team puts forth is delectable, and the pumpkin-shrimp ravioli I scarfed down this evening nearly made me swoon with euphoria. I was even more euphoric when I realized how reasonable the prices were!
The managers imported several Vietnamese waitstaff “captains” from Saigon, guiding them to train the Mui Ne staff in active, engaging customer service. Many of the local hotel staff have been trained to stand silently in a corner with their hands behind their back, and run in panic to a manager if anything at all should arise. In contrast, Sankara waiters are urged to chat and joke with customers, and to be self-sufficient, hands-on problem solvers. Saigonese Frankie, pictured in many of these photos, uses his glowing personality and foodservice experience from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to mentor other workers with grace, simultaneously charming all the customers.
To further add to the international fusion of Sankara, the managers coordinated designers and suppliers from Dubai to England, shipping in everything from hand-carved, swirling mahogany-colored screens, to hand-beaten steel tables which reflect the swaying palm trees. The two keys were emphasizing the gorgeous beachfront through eyelines and open space, and providing extensive venue versatility through movable, multi-purpose furniture. The first reflecting pool even drains in less than five minutes to become the stage for a live band!
Music will help launch Sankara into the international eye, as the management specifically created TEN different DJ booth stations, and has recruited a growing number of famous spinners from Saigon, England, and beyond. Not only is there a DJ station on the roof terrace, but all the pulsing rainbow lights in the venue are programmable to sync with the music, delighting the crowds that will be dancing on the beach patio!
“During the day especially,” said Kamal, “we want this to be a zen, relaxing place. And we always want it to have happy staff and happy customers.”
I, myself, can attest to the success of this zen calm and happiness, having spent hours upon tranquil hours eating and typing away on the inviting white cushions overlooking the ocean. Indeed, the staff took me in as family, even throwing me a birthday party with fluffy tiramisu cake, when they found out I was turning twenty-eight! Sankara is certainly a major factor in me extending my stay in Mui Ne by four extra days.
Sankara’s official grand opening is in November (it’s just a “soft opening” right now, allowing the staff to fine-tune operations), and come January, the venue will be hosting the Kite Surfing Games: the 1,000-plus person kite surfing Olympics. By that time, the popularity of the venue will be off the charts.
Normally, I don’t love the pretty, popular kid in town, feeling the need instead to stand up for the little wallflowers. Stunning Sankara, however, is not driving out or insulting the other restaurants, but rather, it is elevating them by filling an empty niche in the town, employing a slew of locals, and then propelling up-and-coming Mui Ne into the international stratosphere, taking all the other small shops with it. Remember this article well, because if my panting crush is any indication, Sankara and Mui Ne are poised to be famous.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!