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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pot in market lures traveling high rollers

Pot in market lures traveling high rollers

B ACKPACKERS and tourists say the word is out that Cambodia is a haven for

recreational drug use and is a major reason why tourist arrivals are on the

increase.

One backpacker said: "The word has reached England that a kilo

of marijuana goes for $1 here. I came over and purchased a bag the size of a

'potato sack'."

A British traveler, talking to a tourist group of recent

arrivals, advised: "If you go see Angkor Wat, while you're there make sure you

check out the drugs at the market place."

A Danish backpacker added:

"You'd better buy a kilo, because the Angkor pass is so expensive you've got to

have something to do there all day to make it worth your while.

He

warned: "Make sure you scan the range available before purchasing, because the

going price is 2,500 to 3,000 riel per kilo regardless of

quality."

Travelers report that word of the country's open marijuana

markets is spreading through the grapevine along the backpacker trail from

Thailand to Vietnam to Indonesia.

An American traveler staying at the

Capitol, backpackers' hub of Phnom Penh, said: "I met some Germans in Sumatra

before Christmas who told me that pot is legal in Cambodia, and that I should

really go there."

"I heard one can buy marijuana in the markets, and even

smoke it in restaurants without any police hassle.

"I thought that's the

way it should be. I mean that's freedom, so I came here. I thought it may be

exciting with the war and all, but I hadn't even heard of Angkor Wat at the

time."

However, Dr Phat Mau, advisor to the Minister of Justice,

explained that the legal reality of is very different.

He said: "Untac

laws prohibit drug use. All Untac laws remain in force until replaced by laws

passed by the Royal Government."

The actual legal situation is very hazy

but marijuana is not thought to be on the prescribed list as it has

traditionally been used as a medicine, a herb in cooking and a

relaxant.

Police said there were no plans to criminalize marijuana

use.

Captain Sao Sophal, a Phnom-Penh based criminal investigator, said:

"It's a tradition. Some police use it as a medicine and some mix tobacco with

it."

The Tourism Ministry says visitors are mainly attracted by

Cambodia's imposing temples and historical monuments but official admit that the

discovery of freely available marijuana does brighten some

holidays.

Undersecretary of State for Tourism Sok Chenda said: "They

don't come to Cambodia for that purpose. They come and they find some and want

to taste it they do."

Giovanna Mollo, a barmaid at the Rock Hard Cafe,

said the widespread use of pot by backpackers added a new twist to the phrase

'we're only here for the beer'.

She said: "Tourists come into the

restaurant all the time, asking if we have any grass for sale.

"It's

like Amsterdam here. Tourists have stopped me in the streets to see if I know

where to buy drugs. They're not interested at all in the country, they just sit

around in cafes and smoke."

But is not just pot which is freely

available. Phnom Penh's drug experts say pharmacies freely dispense valium,

codeine, morphine compounds, and a variety of other restricted

substances.

"Vendors snooze next to tables covered with countless pills

and capsules, many illegally imported, some fake.

"In the market place

old women man scales in front of enormous barrels of marijuana.

"This has

led to many Western substance abusers likening the place to a candy store."

However an expatriate drug connoisseur said the Cambodian scene is

over-rated.

"Those who arrive with great expectations are going to be

disappointed.

"The marijuana here is definitely nothing to write home

about. The heroin and opium supply is sporadic and generally crap.

"The

junkies I've seen come here usually leave.

"They need to go to places

where everything is comfortably set up for them, you know, good reliable drugs,

pancakes, fruit shakes... I'd say only about 10 percent of the backpackers who

come through here ever even find the heroin or opium anyway."

He

continued: "The heroin's shit. Some of the stuff I've seen could literally kill

you. I hope they don't start selling it around the Capitol. Lots of dead

backpackers.

"Most of them are amateur drug takers anyway. Novelty stuff.

They buy big bags of pot, take pictures, and go home to show their

friends."

This corrrespondent found only two or three places in town that

sell opium and heroin for $20 a gram and $60 a two-inch block respectively.

Crackdowns in Vietnam and especially Thailand are increasing the inflow

of drug enthusiasts from nearer regions.

Freedom seekers report that the

Saigon police no longer tolerate the sale of pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes

sold by vendors under the code name "Buddha".

Backpackers say many

Vietnamese cyclo drivers selling opium to tourists have begun to work in

collaboration with local police and extortionists - setting up naive tourists to

extort hundreds of dollars in "penalties".

A recreational drug user in

Thailand warily reported: "The police are stopping people on the streets in

Bangkok and searching them.

"In Bangkok and places like Koh Samui they

just bust into people's guest houses and bungalows these days.

"Most of

the people I knew and heard about didn't get arrested, the cops wanted to be

paid off in drugs and money."

However not all tourists come here just for

the drugs.

An Australian visitor said: "It's really interesting to be in

Cambodia now, to be a part of history in the making.

The country is

starting over from scratch and literally rebuilding itself - culture, tradition,

laws, everything. I'm glad I came."

 

- Additional reporting by Reuters

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