Lifelong best friends Alice Marano and Darlene Davis take a trip after graduating from high school, giving their parents the impression that they are going to Hawaii. However, Alice talks Darlene into going to Thailand instead, after comparing the prices of both destinations. Darlene agrees, albeit with some reluctance. Once in Thailand, they meet a captivating Australian man who calls himself Nick Parks.
Unknown to them, Nick is a drug smuggler. Darlene is particularly smitten with Nick and persuades Alice to take him up on his offer to treat them both to a side trip to Hong Kong. While boarding their flight at Don Mueang International Airport, the girls are detained by the police. Alice and Darlene are shocked to discover that one of their bags contains heroin, which they insist must have been planted by Nick.
The two girls are interrogated by the Thai police and Darlene signs a confession written in Thai, believing it to be a transcript of her statement. At their trial, they beg for mercy and are sentenced to 33 years in prison, the judge choosing to show leniency and not issue the standard life sentence. In prison, the girls are advised to seek out Henry Greene, aka "Yankee Hank", an expatriate American attorney living in Thailand.
As the girls try to deal with the violence and squalor of prison, Hank begins work on their case. He tracks down another girl who had been used as an unwitting drug mule by a man named Skip K. Carn. Hank deduces that Carn and Parks are the same person, since each name is an anagram of the other, and that he planted the drugs and tipped off the Thai police about the girls as a distraction to make sure his other mules could avoid scrutiny.
Warned that Parks has influential friends in the Thai government, Hank arranges a deal with a corrupt prosecutor to secure a pardon for the girls if they recant their claim about Parks' involvement and take full responsibility for smuggling the drugs. The girls agree, but the prosecutor double-crosses them on the deal. Realizing that Darlene will not survive their time in prison, Alice begs the King of Thailand to allow her to serve both sentences, which have been extended by 15 years after an escape attempt, in exchange for letting Darlene go. The deal is accepted and Darlene is released. She promises to continue working with Hank to try to free Alice.
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