Building on three years of research in Cambodian brick kilns and rural-sender villages, we explore the role of indebtedness, climate change, neoliberal reforms and debt bondage in driving Cambodia’s urban transformation. Starting from the skyscrapers of Phnom Penh, our presentation traces the embodied exploitation that has forged the country’s literal ascent. It questions how debt-bonded brick workers have come to live and labour in such carceral conditions, and how their experiences contest Cambodia’s supposedly miraculous post-conflict development trajectory. In doing so, we introduce the key themes of our book in preparation, tentatively entitled Intoxicating Development. By exploring the processes of toxic debt, toxic waste, and toxic governance that have led to unfree labour on Cambodia’s brick kilns, we provide new insights on the intoxication and implications of finance-led development.