Phnom Penh shooting range. The name says it all. One of the only places on earth that allow civilians to fire heavy weaponry. Our time here started with a very punctual driver, Evan, who was happy to drive us out to the range. www.evancambodiadriver.com. The range is 64 km outside of Phnom Penh but the drive takes nearly 2 hours because the traffic is so bad. Along the way out to the range, which is at the foot of a small mountain, we passed numerous small villages packed with people. But much like our drive out to Doi Inthanon in Thailand, the villages are only densely packed close to the road. Along the way we stopped at a woman selling coconuts to use as targets.
As the bumpy dirt road we were on opened up into a big field with a dirt berm on the opposite side and we pulled next to a small structure with no walls and a thatched roof, I knew it was go time. Once we stepped out guys that were there already left and quickly returned on a motorbike pulling a small trailer. On a table under the hut they lay out a devastating array of weaponry that made both Tessa and I uncomfortable. Regret, I suppose, or fear, started coursing through me and I wanted to get out of there. But just then our driver says, “You want to start with the AK, right?” as another guy is inserting the magazine and giving it some squirts of oil. No turning back now.
As I hold the world famous gun I think of every first person shooter game I’ve played and most of them have this gun in the game. I also thought of a documentary I watched that showed why the AK-47 is so popular. You can throw this gun in water, mud, sand, and even drive over it with a tank and it will still fire. Here I am holding this weapon, lining up the sights, about to experience it first hand after years of video games. The first shot was to test the kick back. It was surprisingly sturdy and more gentle than I had imagined. It was easy to line up shots and nail each one of the coconuts. Very cool.
Before we could really make a choice for ourselves as to what we might want to do they ushered us over to the table and said “Machine gun, 100 rounds?” Ok, machine gun it is, “No, 50 is good.” After a very quick tutorial I prepared myself for the devastation and pressed the two triggers. They didn’t tell me this beforehand but as soon as you press the buttons once it fires the entire magazine by itself, you just need to aim. The concussion, the sound, the speed of it all was very intimidating. My last 6 shots got jammed and once they got the round unstuck Tessa got behind the gun too but after firing only another single round, the gun got jammed again.
So as two army guys worked on the machine gun they offered Tessa an M-16 assault rifle to fire. I could see and feel her reservation and fear but they loaded the magazine and lined her up. After some hesitation Tessa took a breath, lined up her shot down range, and a shot rang out. It’s the first one that's the hard one because you don’t know what to expect but after that it’s a breeze. The range techs, lets call them that, saw that Tessa wasn’t placing her shots accurately and after a quick adjustment Tessa was exploding coconuts.
Growing up, and through video games, I always thought it was be the coolest thing ever to shoot a rocket launcher. I didn’t think about it much more than “Oh man that would be amazing!” and throughout my life that thought has never gone away. So here we were, planning our honeymoon, when I remembered an episode of our favourite travel show, Departures, when the hosts of the show were in Phnom Penh at a gun range that allowed you to shoot extreme things. So after quickly looking at their website I saw that RPG was on the menu and I knew this was an opportunity not to pass up. After a smile from Tessa I followed a range tech out from under the hut to a dirt berm with a loaded RP2 ROCKET LAUNCHER. It was an insane moment. After a very quick tutorial the range tech counted me down and in a flash I was surrounded by smoke. The range tech must have been really stabilizing the launcher because there really wasn’t any kickback or nothing. There was, however, a huge rush of air and a loud bang and after quickly recovering from that I saw this small black object get further and further away until it detonated in the jungle. It all happened incredibly quickly but the experience will be with me forever.
Now it is incredible to check anything off your bucket list, but to check off two things in one day that you for years thought would be impossible?! So here I am, following the range tech to a water hole, about to make another check. He gets me to toss empty shell casings into the water as practice and then another tech holds out a live grenade. He shows me how to hold the lever after pulling the pin and once he determines I’m ready he pulls the pin on the grenade. I never thought I would be holding a live grenade in my hand, ever, but here I am and after a quick toss in the water there is a huge thud in my chest and huge column of water. Unbelievable.
I am not a gun advocate, quite the opposite. Guns are very dangerous and not just anybody should be able to own them. What Tessa and I fired should not be owned privately by anyone ever. Under the careful supervision of army dudes however I think this is an incredible way to experience these weapons. Yeah, put all guns in awesome adult theme parks and out of people's houses. After all, we got to safaris to enjoy tigers, we don't have them in our homes.
Here is the video footage that the wonderful hosts at the gun range took. The good are at 5:30 & 6:20 (machine gun), 6:35 and you'll see Tessa explode some coconuts and at 8:10 you can watch Tessa figure out she's a pretty good shot once she closes the proper eye... derp... But the money shot is at 11:15 where you can see the look on my face when I shoot a ROCKET LAUNCHER!