Thailand's youngest and first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, announced a harsh crackdown on illegal drugs in Thailand when she took office in 2011.
Unlike her brother, former Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra, whose war on drugs was blamed for an estimated 2,500 deaths in 2003, the new Prime Minister of Thailand's policy is centered around reform and compulsory drug treatment for those caught with illegal substances.
An estimated 50 organized crime groups are involved in moving drugs, particularly methamphetamines, into Thailand from neighboring Myanmar. Although cocaine, heroine, and 'hard' drugs can still be found, there has been a general shift to lifestyle and party drugs such as ecstasy and crystal meth -- appealing to the many travelers on holiday who have come to party in Thailand.
Are Drugs in Thailand Legal?
No! Depending on the quantity of the illegal substance that you are carrying (i.e., more than you can consume in one sitting) Thailand has the right to sentence you to death or life in prison.
Although Thailand hasn't enacted the death penalty for drug-related charges since 2004, Thai prisons contain plenty of travelers sentenced to life who are awaiting either help from their governments or a royal pardon.
If you are busted trafficking drugs in Thailand, there is no guarantee that your embassy will intercede.
Drugs in the Thai Islands
With so many young backpackers enjoying the islands in Thailand, drugs such as locally grown magic mushrooms and marijuana are relatively cheap and easy to buy. Haad Rin on the island of Koh Phangan is famous for the monthly Full Moon Party where many travelers try psychedelic mushroom shakes to enhance the experience.
Despite being illegal, drugs can be purchased openly in many bars on Koh Phangan. Undercover police do roam the Full Moon Parties, however, the Mellow Mountain Bar on Sunrise Beach has had mushroom shakes on their menu for more than a decade.
The Infamous Thailand Drug Scam
More than a few backpackers have fallen victim to a simple-but-effective scam while purchasing drugs in Thailand.
When a traveler asks in a bar to purchase marijuana, the bartender sells it to them, then immediately phones an associate who may or may not be a legitimate police officer. The cop then shakes down the traveler, busts them with the weed they just purchased, and demands an expensive bribe. The weed is confiscated, given back to the barman, then resold to the next unsuspecting traveler!
- Learn how to avoid other common scams in Asia.
Buying Prescription Drugs in Thailand
Unlike in the United States where you need a prescription written by a doctor to obtain controlled medications, you can simply walk into any pharmacy in Bangkok or Chiang Mai and purchase prescription drugs -- usually at a fraction of the price found in the West.
While this can be handy for getting access to antibiotics or necessary medicines while traveling, some tourists abuse the open system and purchase large quantities of Valium (diazepam), sleeping pills, pain killers, ridilin, Viagra, and other drugs.
Even if the pills are legal to obtain in Thailand, that does not mean that you can legally carry them back into the United States without a prescription or medical passport.
Magic Shakes and Happy Pizzas
Throughout Southeast Asia you'll sometimes encounter signs or menus advertising 'magic' or 'happy' foods and drinks. 'Magic' typically means that the shake or drink contains psychedelic mushrooms and 'happy' denotes marijuana.
Drugs in Other Parts of Southeast Asia
Getting busted in Singapore is no laughing matter; they impose a mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers and have executed several foreigners over the years. Vietnam executed 85 people in 2007 for drug-related crimes.
- See more about the drug laws in Singapore.
Despite the threat of death penalties or severe prison sentences throughout most of Southeast Asia, a few traveler hotspots along the backpacker Banana Pancake Trail still openly advertise drugs without fear of repercussion. Vang Vieng in Laos, famous for their tubing on the river and rambunctious party scene, is one such place. The Gili Islands in Indonesia, particularly Gili Trawangan, also have magic mushrooms on bar and restaurant menus.