Long-term Siem Reap resident and Filipino expat Loven Ramos hasn’t just carved out a career in the Kingdom – he’s carved out several careers, ranging from artist, interior designer, entrepreneur, writer, photographer, visual poet, boutique shop owner, gallery owner, guesthouse owner, to general manager of major hotels, the current hotel under his management being the plush Riversoul Hotel in downtown Temple Town.
In fact, Loven’s local career has been so bewilderingly diverse that it’s simply amazing.
Ask Loven what gives him most satisfaction from his many projects, and his answer is, well again, amazing.
“Creating a customised Cambodian colouring book for Maddox, Pax and Zahara Jolie-Pitt, then doing landscape design for their mom and dad,” he says.
“Designing a menu for late King Norodom Sihanouk, writing about Siem Reap for the National Geographic, and being an official photographer for Ricky Martin.
“I know they all sound confusing and worlds apart. But they all gave me specific creative highs that are all different from another.”
Even Loven’s story of how he came to be in Siem Reap is, you guessed it, amazing.
Loven was working in Philippines in 2005 when he received a forwarded email about a hotel in Siem Reap looking for a graphic designer.
“I Googled Siem Reap and saw magical black and white photos of Angkor by John McDermott and thought that it’s a gorgeous place for a hood,” he says.
“So I emailed my CV as a joke, but got a call hours later from their HR manager with an offer. I was taken aback at first, but knowing that my girlfriend at that time was pregnant, we both decided that this timing might be a big sign.
“We went home to our island two weeks after that call, we got married in my parents’ garage, then two days later I was off to Cambodia. My wife followed me here three months later, then our son was born thereafter.”
While Loven’s work has been diverse, a constant theme is hotels and his fascination with them, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he eventually made the leap from hotel interior designer to general manager. That transformation came about in typical Loven fashion.
“My jobs as a GM for a couple of hotels here have always started out as small design or photography jobs for their branding,” he says. “When I presented a visual direction for the hotel and its image, I was then asked to do something with the interior designs and the artworks as well. When that’s done, I also give them suggestions on the operational directions when the hotel opens, as I have years of experience working in hotels.
“The next thing you know, they offered me the position of the GM, having been involved so much in the creation of the hotel and the concept.
“This is perhaps what’s great about Cambodia – you sow a few seeds, then soon you’ll end up having a forest.”
Not surprisingly, his first job while still a uni student was with hotels. He’d held a solo art show in the Philippines, a hotel boss liked the work, and asked him to do some artwork for Christmas in the hotel. This led to bigger gigs because the hotel chain was expanding.
“I found myself flying to exotic island destinations on weekends to help the hotel group on the creative aspects of their new hotels,” Loven says, “All this while I was still studying.”
This led to a full time job as creative development head at the hotel chain’s Manila office, a job that lasted almost five years and ultimately led to hotel-surging Cambodia.
In 2014, to document his fascination with hotels, Loven wrote a blog about his series of artworks called ‘Room Service’, which gave a glimpse “of the inner facets of hotels in Cambodia.
His art rendering about the InterContinental Hotel included words from the Dead Kennedy’s song ‘Holiday in Cambodia’, and noted the irony of an American hotel chain opening in post-war-ravaged Phnom Penh on March 27, 1997.
“It seemed like a joke,” Loven wrote. “The first international hotel brand to open in the Kingdom, it was also the tallest building in Cambodia at that time.
“With it also came something that rocked the nation with awe for the first time – HBO, electronic key cards, an indoor car park and yes, hotel uniforms without the bowtie (according to their original press kits).”
While now working as hotel GM, Loven keeps his hand in with other projects.
He’s just finished the interior design for the Bloom Cafe – Raintree in Phnom Penh, and shortly he’ll return to the capital to work on the concept of a cafe named Durian & Bean, and to plan the rebirth of sixties-era residential apartments near the Ministry of Defense. Designing and conceptualising a museum in Phnom Penh may also be in the works.
Meanwhile, in Siem Reap he’s doing the design and build of the BackStreet Academy workshop and showroom, and is renovating the 1961 Coworking and Art Space.
“I won’t be involved with it too much when it reopens, but I’m glad I’m still helping design its rebirth,” he says. “A couple more exciting projects are in the works, but still too early to say. Maybe a spa. Who knows? This is Cambodia. Everything is possible.”