Jan 16 2013
Circa 51 is a lovely small hotel in Phnom Penh, located in an historical early 1960s-era building renovated with care and attention to detail. With a swimming pool and eclectic decor, it makes for somewhere a bit different to stay in the Cambodian capital if your budget stretches to midrange.
Tucked away behind a large, unmarked white gate — we had to call to get clear instructions on where it was as going up and down the street a few times — walking into Circa 51 you could almost believe you’ve just arrived at a friend’s house. But the bustle of the lobby, which was quite hectic at check-out time when we popped in for a look, gives the game away.
The feel is immediately 1960s, with polished concrete tiles, claustra — lace-like cement work — and retro furniture in the lobby. This is classic original New Khmer Architecture, the kind that’s fast disappearing across the city. The building was used as a government office, and it once belonged to Princess Bopha Devi, the sister of King Norodom Sihamoni. It maintains the residence feel today, with just 10 rooms (and nine room types), priced from $51 for a single or $65 for a twin.
The no-smoking rooms are decorated in a mix of antique, retro and more modern furniture, with some Khmer textiles and artworks adding colour; it doesn’t quite have the finesse of freshly-opened The Sangkum or the breezy style of The 252, but it’s an original building with a faithful renovation, and it does feel like a very comfortable retreat with character. Amenities are what you’d expect for this price point, and include hot water bathrooms, air-con, tea- and coffee-making facilities, robes, flat-screen TVs with DVD player, toiletries and water.
You’ll likely spend quite a bit of time by the welcoming large saltwater pool with loungers, partly shaded by a banyan tree and traveller palms; kids will love the small pond at the entrance filled with turtles — we thought they were statues until we saw one move. A very decent breakfast spread is included in room rates and served on a terrace overlooking the pool, while for other meals Western and Asian dishes are available, including from their sister restaurant Saffron, which focuses on South Asian cuisine.
While the location is away from the river, it’s only about a 20-minute to get there, or a few minutes in a tuk tuk. What you lose in location you gain in peacefulness, as this is a mostly residential area with little hassle. We found the staff obliging, as although they were obviously very busy when we asked to see a room they still showed us through.
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