Poor villagers in Kompong Thom province used to enter the deep jungles to scrape out a meager income by chopping logs and hunting wildlife.
Now, after decades of warfare and a decade of anti-mine and unexploded ordnance awareness campaigns, they are actively looking for old bombs.
A recent increase in the prices paid for scrap metal has villagers flocking to scavenge for old bombs and shrapnel left over from fighting through the 1970s.
“The market for this is seemingly booming,” said Long Nam, Kompong Thom’s biggest scrap metal collector, who sells his collection to buyers in Thailand.
Because of its quality, he said, the price for scrap metal from war-time bombs is up to about 650 riel per kg, more than double the price last year.
Higher prices has more villagers digging the forest and searching out bomb craters where US planes targeted Vietcong and Khmer Rouge resistance.
Cheng Chi, another scrap metal collector, said some villagers had found unexploded bombs, but knew how to detonate and burn them down to small pieces.
As more villagers dig for metal, Kompong Thom governor Nam Tum said he fears the trend could spread to areas surrounding ancient temples.
“It’s no problem if they go digging for scrap metal, but we must take preventive measures against digging in temple areas, especially the Sambo Prey Kup temple,” he said.
As the amount of shrapnel buried in the Cambodian countryside is gradually farmed out, more people are using metal detectors to scavenge.
Scrap metal wholesaler Long Nam said he collected about 450 tons of bomb metal from Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces. But “there is less and less of this [metal], so people find it hard to collect,” he said.
According to Long Nam, about 90 percent of scrap metal can be used after processing.