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What You Need to Know About Drug Use in Southeast Asia

Travel Safety Cannabis
by Ocean Malandra Dec 1, 2017
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Matador Network. Travelers should always be aware of the laws of the country they are visiting, and should not expect leniency if they break them.

Before going completely buck wild in Southeast Asia, keep in mind that the laws can be super strict when it comes to drugs. In fact, several countries still hand out the death penalty for drug trafficking, something a drug-smuggling group of Australians found out the hard way just a couple years ago. To help keep you off death row, or even just free of needing to bribe a local cop, we have put together a brief rundown of regulations in every country in mainland Southeast Asia.

Doing a bit of homework before you go can make the difference between the vacay of your dreams and a trip to hell on earth. So study up!


Drug use is no joke in Thailand. In fact, the nation has the largest prison population in Southeast Asia, most of it made up of minor drug offenses. Thankfully, the country amended its drug policy in early 2017 and lifted an assumption that everyone who possesses drugs is automatically presumed to be selling them, something punishable by death. Under the new law, plant drugs like marijuana, magic mushrooms, and kratom are category 5 and carry lighter penalties, but chemical drugs including MDMA, LSD, and heroin are category 1 and can still catch you a life sentence. But hey, that’s better than a beheading right?


Once a major opium-growing region, Vietnam has been spending lots of money over the last couple decades to stamp out drug production and trafficking. While these results have been largely successful, the country continues to have a major drug use problem and a large population of drug offenders behind bars. Possession of heroin can still get you the death penalty in Vietnam, although the country is altering its punitive laws to emphasize treatment over incarceration, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institute. Marijuana and other drugs are illegal in Vietnam, although travelers report they are easy to come by.


A major producer and supplier of both heroin and marijuana, Cambodia is one of the countries in South East Asia where drugs are cheap and easy to come by for travelers. While marijuana is semi-legal and few people are prosecuted for it, travelers report having to pay bribes to local police if caught with possession. Heroin and other drugs can be a different story. Heroin is cheaper in Cambodia than the likes of cocaine, thus it is often used to cut cocaine. It is important at this point to keep in mind that an overdose here or in many of the countries listed here could be fatal due to poor healthcare services. Although the country does not prescribe the death penalty for drug charges, the dozens of foreigners locked up in Prey Sar prison might persuade you to stay clean.


Laos is another Golden Triangle player and has long been a major producer and supplier of both heroin and marijuana. In fact, Vang Vieng is known as one of the best party towns in all of South East Asia and has long been popular with backpackers on a shoestring budget looking for cheap drugs. As much fun as Laos might be, keep in mind that opium, marijuana, and other drugs are still technically illegal and possession of large amounts can leave you facing the death penalty.


For a long time, Myanmar was known for its large-scale heroin production and the harsh but mostly ineffective drug war that the country fought against. For visitors, drugs remain illegal in Burma but are easy to find. High rates of local addiction, however, have forced the country to rethink its drug policies and a new bill, proposed to parliament in September 2017, could drastically change the drug problem from a criminalization to a focus on health policy. What that means to travelers is yet to be seen.


Despite the fact that Malaysiav is emerging as a major producer of chemical drugs like ecstasy and amphetamines, the nation is known internationally for its “zero tolerance” approach to drug possession. In fact, two Australians were executed in 1986 for attempting to transport heroin out of the country. Capital punishment is still mandatory for drug trafficking in Malaysia and even possession of small amounts is seen as a serious offense that can land you in the slammer.

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