Have you ever wanted to shoot a Tommy Gun? How about an AK-47 or an M-16? In Phnom Penh, shooting military grade weapons is a popular and completely unregulated tourist attraction that’s left out of most guidebooks. Nonetheless it is extremely easy to seek out. It’s also technically illegal, but the local Cambodian government is perpetually out to lunch when it comes to enforcing its own laws.
My first insight into this activity happened not even ten minutes after arriving at the airport. A tuk tuk driver handed me a laminated sheet with photos of smiling tourists holding machine guns and wearing ammunition belts. Sold. Within 20 minutes I had at my disposal a diverse arsenal of machine guns fit for a small army.
No disclaimers, no formalities, just an annex full of weapons and a few guards in military dress. One of the guards handed me a thick menu featuring pictures with associated prices ranging from AK-47’s ($25), to Tommy Guns ($40), all the way up to B40 rocket launchers ($350). All I had to do was point and hand over the cash and I would get my hands on any one the machine guns casually lying around on the floor, leaning against the wall, or from the pile out back.
You can youtube “b40 Cambodia” and see the amateur cellphone videos of the tourists who pay to fire the rocket launchers, known as B40 RPG-2′s. They don’t appear particularly well maintained and based on age alone there is a definite possibility that the mechanisms will not operate 100% as designed which would effectively render them as sticks with dynamite that you hold 20 inches from your face.
The place I visited was named the Happy Club – not kidding. This particular venue looked as though it was in a residential neighborhood; I bring this up because the other venues are actually on the military bases where you pay the soldiers directly for their weapons. Imagine taking a taxi right into the heart of Fort Bragg in North Carolina and handing a soldier two $20 bills in exchange for his weapon and a full magazine.
The name “Happy Club” is ironic. Cambodia has a large surplus of weapons due to the multiple horrific conflicts that have plagued the country over the last 50 years. The most famous, and brutal, was the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1974) when the psychopathic communist dictator Pol Pot attempted to return the country to an agrarian state through the genocide of 2-3 million intellectuals, lawyers, teachers, religious figures, and businessmen. Pol Pot attempted to kill anyone who represented progress, which in the end amounted to the death of roughly 25% of the country’s population. In short, traveling to Cambodia to play with these guns is not far removed from traveling to Auschwitz to play with left over holocaust weapons.
The guy running the range offered me a live duck for target practice for $20. Sorry to disappoint but we turned this down as a particularly insane activity. I shot at coconuts instead, which satisfyingly burst on impact. The most popular rumor about the gun ranges is the potential to fire a rocket launcher at a cow. I wasn’t able to confirm as I didn’t want to pay the $350 for the rocket launcher nor drive about 2 1/2 hours out of the city to a nondescript hill where you can safely shoot it. If anyone wants to go back with $400 or $500 I’m sure you could eventually get them to bring you a cow – not that I’m endorsing this in any way. Anything for a dollar in lawless Cambodia.