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
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
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.
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
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
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
Police said there were no plans to criminalize marijuana
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
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
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.
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
"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.
led to many Western substance abusers likening the place to a candy store."
However an expatriate drug connoisseur said the Cambodian scene is
"Those who arrive with great expectations are going to be
"The marijuana here is definitely nothing to write home
about. The heroin and opium supply is sporadic and generally crap.
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."
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
"Most of them are amateur drug takers anyway. Novelty stuff.
They buy big bags of pot, take pictures, and go home to show their
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.
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
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