The book is about a young Englishman, Robert Lomax, who has just decided to pursue a new career as an artist. He visits Hong Kong in search of inspiration for his paintings where he checks into the Nam Kok Hotel, not realizing, at first, that it is an unofficial brothel catering mainly to British and American sailors. However, the discovery of that fact only makes the hotel more charming in Lomax's opinion and a better source of subject matter for his paintings. He quickly befriends most of the hotel's bargirls but is most fascinated by the archetypal "hooker with a heart of gold", Suzie Wong, who had previously introduced herself to him as Wong Mee-ling, a rich virgin whose father had five houses and more cars than she could count, and initially pretended not to recognize him at the hotel. Lomax had originally decided that he would not sleep with any of the bargirls at the hotel because he would be living with them for a long time and did not want to put a strain on their relationships. However, it soon emerges that Suzie Wong is interested in him, not as a customer but as a serious boyfriend. Although Suzie Wong becomes the kept woman of two other men and Robert Lomax becomes attracted to a young female British nurse, Lomax and Wong are eventually reunited and the novel ends happily.