Adrift begins with the wedding of Duyen and Hai. Duyen is a beautiful tourist guide and translator who marries Hai, a taxi driver who is two years her junior. Duyen thinks the marriage will make her happy but it turns out more difficult, especially since her childlike husband is uninterested in her efforts of intimacy and the marriage remains unconsummated. Cam, secretly in love with Duyen, is bitter about the marriage. Cam has Duyen deliver a letter to Tho, a handsome lothario and tourist guide who physically hurls himself on Duyen when she visits his home to deliver the letter. After Tho reports back to Cam that Duyen is sexually inexperienced, Cam diabolically persuades Duyen to take a temporary job as a translator on one of Tho’s beach tours, knowing what will happen. Duyen's time at the beach with Tho results in an affair leading to Duyen's sexual awakening but continued uncertainty about herself, marriage, and life.