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When the boys from Bali came to Siem Reap to do serious full-time business, they determined that, unlike Bali which is famed for its tourist-attractant sandy beaches, Temple Town was devoid of any beach, sand or otherwise.
So what to do?
Simple – make a beach. And that’s just what former Bali expat Marten Hubbeling and his team did.
After almost 18 months, after 280 truckloads of nice white sand, and after the making of a swimming pool full of saltwater, Cambo Beach Club – “The Only Beach in Siem Reap” – finally opened. Which helps explain the puzzling proliferation of “To the Beach” signs dotting the alleyways and laneways of the cluttered Night Market-Funky Lane inner-urban sea-free downtown Siem Reap precinct, where the club is located.
The man behind it all, Hubbeling, grew up in West Australia before getting the travel bug and says he has “lived and worked in Bali for 25 years in the hospitality industry.”
He holds court at a table at his venue, which has steadily made traction since opening and now, given the heat wave, is making a big splash.
It’s arrived, as they say in the business, and seated with Marten at the table are his fellow business directors, Daan Van Reenan – also formerly from Bali, where he worked as a bar manager and for the Karma Group – and Penh Cheas, a long-time local hospitality worker, plus Englishman Ray from the nearby Mango Cuisine fine dining restaurant who, according to Marten, lends a helping hand.
“The concept took a year and we started the build of Cambo Beach Club on July 26, 2018,” Hubbeling says, “The build took five months.”
He interrupts his spiel and turns to Penh Cheas, giving detailed instructions on what sort of tips to buy for the club’s billiard cues, and then returns to walking the Khmer Times through the genesis of the club.
“When we started, there was just a swamp here,” he says, waving his hand to encompass the club’s expanse. “I found a swamp and built the whole thing on it.”
To prove the point, he asks Ray to find a photo of the swamp in the pic archives on his phone, which Ray does and the pic of the swamp-like patch of pre-Club land is passed around to remind everyone how far things have come from humble beginnings.
“At first we thought of a restaurant, then a hotel and then this – they let me design the whole thing and here it is,” says Marten who is also humble about his role in the club. He’s quick to brush aside the notion that he’s the main man in the venture and says, “I am the designer, but have my local partners to thank in finding the location and support, as well as a few shareholders who are also friends. In particular, Penh Cheas, IR Rithy and Daan Van Reenan.”
But Marten is in fact the chairman of the board of directors and one of three listed directors of The Beach Siem Reap Co., Ltd., which was incorporated in August 2018, and which has, as its trading brand, the Cambo Beach Club.
And despite the distinct Bali chill-out vibes emanating from the project, Marten is also quick to brush aside the notion that this is a Bali-driven venture, pointing out that he has Khmer partners.
“[There was] no strategy to jump from Bali to Siem Reap, my partners – local Khmer and expat – all love Cambodia,” he says. “We felt the beach club concept would be a good addition to the other attractions Siem Reap has.
“Our market is focused on local, expat and tourist alike, creating an event space for local and international artists, a lot of local collaborations for charity and social events and an awesome chill-out area.
“We will add a few extra features in the near future to enhance the space further.”
He pauses, then emphasises, “We’re more than just a pool.”
Indeed, as well as the club’s main feature – an approximately 30 meter-long pool with 3m and 5m jumps into a 4.2 meter deep area – the venue also boasts a massage shack, billiards and football tables, sport stations, bean bag lounge areas and sun beds, a beach volleyball-soccer court, beach shack dining, and “Instagram-able corners (and toilets.)” And plenty of sand.
There’s also plenty of entertainment, such as a live resident DJ and fire dance shows.
But Marten is keen to point out that the club will be the venue for regular weekly and monthly events, with private and corporate events more than welcome.
Event planning and management is one of Marten’s fortes and he’s no stranger to the event business in Siem Reap.
“I’ve been coming here for fifteen years, I’ve brought groups here,” he says, “And I’ve known Penh Cheas for fifteen years, from when he was a concierge at Sofitel.”
Marten’s been general manager since 2002 of DMC Bali Plus, which relatively recently became DMC Asia Plus – billing itself as “the one stop and complete MICE provider” – with offices in several regional countries including Cambodia.
Now in Siem Reap, having got the Cambodia Beach Club up and running smoothly, he says, “My job now is to create and do all the events, to create events to get people here.”
He rattles off a long list of past and future events, and enthuses, among other things, about a Siem Reap talent show that’s booked for July 20-21.
In any event, Marten’s out to ensure that that the Cambo Beach Club keeps making waves.