Let’s Talk about Drugs and Travel

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Drugs and Travel

The other week three Canadian nationals were arrested attempting to smuggle 30 million dollars’ worth of cocaine into Australia. This got me thinking about the link between travelling and questionable decision making, namely drugs.

Drugs are plentiful throughout the world. They have existed for centuries, often created by mistake and wrongly assumed to be beneficial, like cigarettes. Cocaine, for example, used to be an over the counter purchase at your local pharmacy and was an ingredient in the first Coca-Cola recipe. Similarly, heroin and aspirin were discovered at the same time, yet it was heroin that was marketed and sold in chemists whereas aspirin was considered bad for your health.

The fact remains that where illegal drugs exist, there will be a person willing to sell them. Every city has someone who will attempt to peddle drugs to you. But travellers are often the best customers. Doing it in Western countries is one thing, but doing it in the countries of Asia is something completely different.

Experience tells me that at some stage, a shady dude is going to appear from a dark corner on a crowded city street and, in a hushed tone, ask you to buy something illegal from him. He will tell you that it is the best stuff in the town/city/country/world. If you choose to listen to him, he will tell you that you would be missing out on the deal of a lifetime if you say no and as such will give it to you for the cheapest possible price, just because he likes the look of you.

You will recognise him instantly. Typically, he’s sitting on his moped, ready for a quick exit, scanning the streets for customers. “Sir! Sir! You want smoke?”

“No thanks,” you’ll say.

“How about coke? You want coke?” It always starts with the milder drugs but quickly escalates.

“Not tonight.”




“Well if I didn’t want heroin…”

“You want girl, then?” I’m certain it’s only males who get offered prostitutes but every drug dealer appears to double as a pimp. As soon as you rebuff his final offer, he shrugs his shoulders and moves on to the next passer-by.

The fact is that some locals are going to try and sell drugs to you while you travel, regardless of your destination. As a fairly straight looking character who hasn’t dabbled in anything along these lines, I have been offered everything under the sun. At one point, travelling through Southeast Asia, I had literally been offered every mainstream narcotic or naturally occurring opiate known to the Western world purely because I was a tourist, and not (I hope) because I looked like a drug addict.

Opium in Laos, cocaine in Cambodia, magic mushrooms on party islands and weed everywhere the sun comes up in the morning. I was even asked if I had any “sniff” while I was in London. The offers could come from anywhere too. I was approached near the engine room on a boat as I putted down the Mekong, on the docks when we got off the same boat, on the street outside a bar as we were leaving the dock and inside the bar itself. These are just a few examples from the one experience, all in the space of half an hour.

Asian countries crack down on drug possession harsher than murder. Australians are all familiar with the story of Shapelle Corby and her boogie bag full of Marijuana or the Bali Nine drug smugglers taping kilos of heroin to their bodies like that was a good idea. In 2005, an Australian model was found in possession of two ecstasy pills in Bali and given jail time. The examples are endless. Tourists have been executed as a result of these hard-line laws. Currently in the Philippines, the president has approved the execution on site of anyone caught or suspected of dealing drugs in a war to rid the practice − 2000 deaths and counting.

There are inherent risks in many things relating to travel and it’s not up to me to tell you how you should try and have a good time. But when it gets to the point where the possible penalties start to outweigh the risks, maybe it’s time to take the 95 kilos of cocaine out of your suitcase so your trip doesn’t turn into another episode of Banged Up Abroad or a BBC headline. If you’re still keen to follow the character down that dark alley, read The Damage Done by Warren Fellows. It’s bound to change your perspective.