"What was that?" I asked as the needle-nosed long-tail boat shuddered.
"I dunno," my friend Lane said with a shrug. "Maybe we hit something."
I turned to ask our boat pilot, but he was no longer manning the motor. He was flat on the deck, covering his head with his hands, trembling. This did not bode well for our floating-market tour in Bangkok.
"Excuse me, sir," I said, "but why are you "
Something slammed into the port side just above the water line, nearly toppling me overboard. What in blazes was going on? I peered over the edge of our 30-foot craft, expecting to see water gushing into the hull, but all looked normal. I motioned to Lane at the front of the boat, and as he lumbered down a deck no more than 4 feet wide, steadying himself with poles supporting a frilly canvas roof, something appeared to whir by his head.
"OK," I said to our guide, whose name escapes me 20 years later. "What is happening, and why are you lying on the deck?"
"Songkran," he said slowly, as if to a child. "Worst day for floating-market tour. I tell you, today no good!"
Lane scratched his head. "Yeah, come to think of it, he did seem a mite put off when we showed up."
It had seemed unusual that we were the only tourists to show up for such a popular attraction. But we still didn't know what had rocked the boat and why our guide looked petrified.
"Why," I asked, "is today the worst for "
Splat! Splat! Splat!
A fusillade of water balloons struck Lane and me simultaneously. Cheers erupted from both sides of the river. We hit the deck beside the guide as balloons exploded around us. I frantically dug into my backpack for a guidebook.
"Songkran, did you say?" I asked as I riffled through the pages.
I read aloud. Songkran, the book said, is the three-day Thai New Year celebration that starts April 13. It's also known as the Water Festival because people believe water will wash away bad luck.
I kept reading: Songkran means "move" or "change place" because it's the day the sun changes position in the zodiac.
"I think we want the part about water balloons," Lane said.