If you came to Los Angeles from Thailand in the 1960s, you would likely have gravitated towards one address – a six block area adjacent to Hollywood Boulevard between Normandie and Western Avenues. Perhaps you would already have known some other Thai people who had previously moved here, perhaps simply used the area as a point of entry due to people here speaking your language. www.travelrows.com
Thai Town on the map:
Many people who came here came to study at Southland universities, while others simply came to make new lives in the ‘land of opportunity’. A majority stayed within this part of the city, which was already home to other migrant groups, including Armenians and Latinos. Today, the area is still home to many of the 80,000 Thai people estimated to be living in Southern California. It is home to the largest number of Thai people living outside of Thailand, and is the only designated ‘Thai Town’ in the United States.
Unfortunately, life for some Thai people who have moved here has not been ‘the American dream’. Demographic data shows that some 27% of households here live below the poverty line – a problem that has been exacerbated by the thousands of working-class Thai immigrants who have moved here in the last couple of decades and ended up working in sweatshops, restaurant kitchens and massage parlours.
People visiting Thai Town are often unaware of the plight faced by many of its inhabitants, and cultural insensitivity and tourism pressures can sometimes worsen the issues they face. That said, in 1999, when Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg suggested the designation of ‘Thai Town’ be applied to the area, she said that the move would bring pride, economic development and promote tourism in the area, and this has indeed been the case. The Thai Community Development Centre has helped, at least in part, to regenerate the area. Their works have included the creation of a garden, and the placement of four golden statues from Thailand than now mark the borders of the town.
Things to do
Thailand Plaza, the centre of Thai Town, is a good place to begin on a visit to the area. In order to help local businesses, you cannot park here in the garage unless you buy from vendors surrounding the plaza, or eat at the restaurant. It is important to remember that tourism will not boost the area unless you actually spend some money here.
As it happens, you will likely want to buy. This is a great place to pick up Thai specialities that cannot be found elsewhere, and to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Thai cuisine. Food lovers can stock up here on bitter melon and round Thai eggplants – try preserved jackfruit, Pandan cookies or Kring Krang from a specialist dessert shop, or enjoy a delicious traditional Thai curry at one of the excellent Thai restaurants here.
There are lots of places to stay in the town, check out google maps for accommodation suggestions. Do not forget to read reviews.
When to visit?
The best time to visit is during the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year). In Thai Town this is celebrated the first Sunday of April. During this event, five blocks on Hollywood Boulevard are cut off to traffic and large crowds gather to enjoy the festivities. If you visit during this time, you will get a true taste of Thai culture.
Unfortunately, I don’t have original photos of Thai Town to share, if you have some and want them to be published on this page, please contact us. Thank you.