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Phnom Penh’s guns for hire

Phnom Penh’s guns for hire

121026 04

Newlywed Tenielle Dunne fires an M16 at the Phnom Penh shooting range, her first stop in the country. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Lolling by turquoise waters and feasting on buttery, Kampot-peppered crab in Kep, romantic saunters under the shade of twisted Banyan trees and the ancient ruins of Angkor, or a few decadent days on private-island resort Song Saa.

Not on the menu for honeymooning Brisbane beloveds Tenielle and Jared Dunne—rather, two Russian AK-47s with a history soaked in war-torn Cambodia, a single shot Ruger .22 and two fistfuls of shiny, brassy bullets.

Menu

AK-47
Make: Russian and Chinese
Single shot and automatic
One magazine: 25 bullets
Price: $40 with target

M-16
Make: American
Single shot and automatic
One magazine: 20 bullets
Price: $40 with target

Ruger .22
Make: American
Single shot
One magazine: 10 bullets
Price: $30 with target

Shotgun
Make: American
Single shot
One magazine: six bullets
Price: $30 with target

K54
Make: Russian and Chinese
Single shot
One magazine: seven bullets
Price: $30 with target

Hand grenade
Make: Russian, American and Chinese
One must “travel to the mountain” and throw the weapon at the ground or in a pond
Price: One grenade at $50

B40 rocket launcher
Make: Russian and Chinese
One must “travel to the mountain” and fire the weapon towards the mountain
Price: $350 with target

Revolver
Make: American
Single shot
Six bullets
Price: $25

The Dunnes had just arrived into the country and first stop on their Southeast Asian jaunt was Phnom Penh’s illustrious shooting range—if not long a place of interest for trigger-happy tourists and locals alike, then a site many have shaken their heads at in revolted dismay.

Although the military-owned site’s address is not listed in guidebooks or online, the gun range and plethora of missiles, bullets and arms available to fire are listed inside most tuk tuks alongside the Killing Fields and S-21, with most drivers knowing the route, a few kilometres past the capital’s airport, like the back of their hand.

Once we arrive, photographer in tow, we’re immediately eyed warily by the range’s camouflage-clad, dog-tag wearing manager, who won’t reveal his name and tells us “he’s been burned before” by the press.

“No interviews. None. All I will say is that you cannot shoot a cow here. Only coconuts,” he says through a clenched jaw.

Once we agree to purchase over $50 of artillery though, we’re in, and are allowed to watch the honeymooners, ahead of us in the queue, fire their rounds.

We’re led into a long, cavernous and damp room, where a table and chair is set up on the earthen floor.

Our host tells us with pride that the collection of weapons has a bloody past—the Russian AK-47s were used during the Khmer Rouge days and the American M16s are leftovers from Vietnam—amplifying any disconcertion that already existed.

Jared’s first up and with a fan blowing hot air into his face he blasts off the machine gun—albeit on single shots. He seems quite the pro, and the boom reverberates around the room.

Our host sits a tentative Tenielle down and pulls down the safety and with a steely resolution the bride clamps her finger down on the trigger and hits the target, right in the centre. Her husband looks suitably impressed.

Rumours abound that grenades can be thrown at livestock for the right price and although we’re certainly not keen, we ask again about the cows once more.

Instead, we’re told the shooting range is open every day, and is, financially, making a killing.

“People come in the early mornings before work or after work if they have any frustrations, the army also come here to train sometimes,” he says. “We’re open 7am-8pm… many people come straight from the airport or on their way to the airport.”

The honeymooners are finished, ten minutes and more than $100 later.

“We won’t stay long in Phnom Penh, this is mainly what we came for. We’ve been told to avoid the palace, because of the King’s death,” Tenielle offers, “so we’ll probably head to Vietnam in a few days.”

“Where we will get to another shooting range…at Cu Chi I hope,” Jared says.

Tuk-tuk driver Sara has brought hordes of tourists to the range and says he’s been offered a shot most times—he’s even thrown a grenade into a pond.

“I watched a blonde American girl fire a rocket launcher in tight denim shorts, into a forested mountain. How would you ever know what it hits though?” he asks.

He grimaces and expertly fires the M16 off, shells flying back into his face, the air thick with the bitter taste of gunpowder.

We’re all donning earmuffs yet there is nothing shielding the eyes.

Things suddenly seem more serious as we step deeper into the shooting pit and are offered the revolver.

Our manager methodically loads single bullets into the gun and warns us to be careful. Each bullet fired from the revolver ricochets us backwards and the force is alarming.

Later in the tuk-tuk, Sara reveals while he’s never seen it, he has heard tales of tourists shooting up furry and feathered creatures.

“You can still shoot the animals, not at this place but there are other shooting groups you can go with. You have to buy the animals and they’ll take you to a remote place. This range is too popular though, so you can’t do it here. As long as you pay the right price anything is possible.”  

There is no formal address for the shooting range, however most motodops and tuk-tuk drivers, especially those around the city’s bus stations, know the way.

It’s about 20 km outside of Phnom Penh, along Russian Blvd and about 15 km past the airport along National Highway 4, on the right.

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