Los Angeles is home to the only “Thai Town” in the United States. For the past 50 years, Thai people have been settling in the six blocks along Hollywood Blvd between Normandie and Western Avenues in East Hollywood. The area was officially named “Thai Town” in 1999 and has been referred to as the 77th Thai province (the other 76 Thai provinces are in the motherland). Just south of Thai Town is the only “Little Armenia” in the United States. It’s best to visit Little Armenia first, since you will likely spend more time in Thai Town.
Although it’s not difficult to find parking in East Hollywood, the Metro red line runs along Vermont Ave and across Hollywood Blvd. Santa Monica Blvd is considered to be the southern border of Little Armenia and just west of there is the Hollywood Forever cemetery. Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone are buried there (they died within a few years of each other after having moved to Los Angeles) in the Garden of Legends. There’s an Anne Frank memorial as well. For $5, you can get a map and there’s plenty of free parking. There weren’t many tourists during either of my visits. If you don’t feel like spending $5 for the map, you can ask the guys on the golf carts where certain people are. The worse they can say is “I don’t know” (like the Ozzy song), but if you get lucky, they’ll give you a ride. Everyone knows where the Ramones (there’s a huge statue of Johnny which is nearly impossible to miss) and Anne Frank (plaque only) are, but when I pushed my luck by asking for Bob Guccione (his son founded Spin magazine), I was given a confused look.
If you are coming from Hollywood Forever, you can take bus 4, which goes along Santa Monica Blvd. Get out when you see Normandie, turn left and you’ll be walking northbound into Little Armenia (there’s a sign). At the 2016 Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show, the guys from the Armenia booth suggested eating at either Carousel or Zankou Chicken. Carousel was closed (it was Monday), so I stopped by Zankou for an early lunch. The place seemed filled with mostly regulars and they were happy to offer a sample of each meat. Their fresh pita wraps are relatively small, so try the tri tip shawerma and the chicken tarna and leave room for dessert in Thai Town!
Dessert in Thai Town
Thai Town has more Thai restaurants than you can try in a single week as well as multiple grocery stores. Thailand is always well represented at travel shows both on the east and west coast. The friendly people at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (LA Travel and Adventure Show) were quick to write down four restaurants to try, all of which are within a couple blocks of each other along Hollywood Blvd. If you’ve already had lunch in Little Armenia, stop at Lacha Somtum for shaved ice (or any of their other desserts) and then head to Bhan Kanom to buy some Thai snacks. It’s a store, so there’s no dining area, but if you have Thai friends outside of Los Angeles, but them something there!
Museum of Death
East Hollywood is considered to be one of the poorer areas in Los Angeles County, but if it’s good enough to make it onto an episode of Globe Trekker, then it’s good enough (like the Van Hagar song) for any serious traveler. Another interesting place to visit is the Museum of Death just a few blocks west of Thai Town in Holywood. Although $15 (well, they’re not publicly funded) is a bit steep for a small museum, they have some interesting artifacts not meant for the squeamish. John Wayne Gacy paintings are in abundance as well as pictures from the Sharon Tate and other crime scenes. Photography is not allowed inside.
The Famous Hollywood Sign is Farther and Bigger Than It Looks!
If you continue west on Hollywood Blvd, you’ll see the Capitol Records building a few blocks away and also the Hollywood sign. Although you can’t get close enough to touch the letters, the intersection of Hollywood and Gower is a good start point if you want to hike up to the sign (as close as you can get without breaking the law and/or putting your life in danger). If you turn right onto Gower, it’s about a 45 minute walk to the Sunset Ranch Hollywood. Since it takes at least that long to walk up to the sign from the ranch, it’s better to take the DASH bus to Beachwood and Westshire and then walk to the ranch. This will save you some much needed energy and after you turn off Hollywood Blvd and there’s nothing else to see until you get close to the sign anyway. In fact, it’s mostly residential and you may get jealous looking at the million dollar homes and hundred thousand dollar cars all along the way. The road from the Sunset Ranch to the sign is not paved. Wear comfortable shoes! Once you get up to the sign, it’s mostly downhill from there and you’ll be glad it is.
Dinner in Thai Town
All that walking will make you hungry and there are plenty of places left to try in Thai Town. Kruang Tedd is on the eastern border of Thai Town and came highly recommended by the Thai folks at the Travel and Adventure Show. Like Lacha Somtum, there are plenty of items on the menu that you don’t see at most Thai restaurants. If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ll recognize some of them. This is fitting since Thai restaurants are usually not located on the same block. Many have no competition, but Thai Town Los Angeles is the most competitive atmosphere to open a Thai restaurant in outside of Thailand itself. Whole fish steamed in lime juice was one of my personal favorites in Thailand as well as the chicken noodles that Bangkok’s Chinatown is famous for. Both are on the menu.
Since it’s only $1.75 per metro ride with a free bus transfer within two hours, it should cost less than $10 (even if you use the bus whenever possible to avoid walking) to see all of the sights in this post. This will leave you with a lot of extra money to spend on food (and water if you plan to walk up to the Hollywood sign).