Gillard's abode has a grim and glamorous past

Luxury ... the Elephant Bar at Le Royal.
Luxury ... the Elephant Bar at Le Royal. 

Phnom Penh: Bomb sniffer dogs patrol outside. Men wearing ear-pieces and with bulges in their dark suits lurk in the corridors. Slum dwellers, beggars and homeless people living nearby have been rounded up.

Julia Gillard is getting a close-up view of the massive security that encases US president Barack Obama on his overseas trips.

They are both staying at the Hotel le Royal in the Cambodian capital, one of Asia's most famous hotels. It was the last refuge for foreign journalists before the murderous Khmer Rouge forced all foreigners from Cambodia in 1975 and featured in the movie The Killing Fields.

Built in 1929 and renovated by Raffles Hotels and Resorts in 1996, it reopened in 1997, retaining a charm that in its early hey-day attracted jet-setting celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, somerset Maugham and the New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg.

Security was so tight when Australian journalists went to interview Ms Gillard upon her arrival at the hotel on Monday that they were corralled into a courtyard near the swimming pool and ordered not to wander off.

Reliable sources say Ms Gillard can soothe her nerves with a "Femme Fatale", a cocktail named in honour of another regular guest, Jacqueline Kennedy, or the "Million Dollar Cocktail", which gained notoriety in Maugham's bedside tale The Letter. Or, she could gaze at paintings on the roof of the Elephant Bar.

The first announcement Ms Gillard had for journalists was that this was to be her last overseas trip for the year.

But she will have three days to enjoy the hotel with her partner Tim Mathieson, on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, a forum of 18 world leaders where the main issue will be trade talks.

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