A Slice of Southeast Asia in Southern California

by Ben Bangs, Jul 16, 2006 | Destinations: Vietnam / Ho Chi Minh City

Some Lowdown On The Highlights of Little Saigon

Do you need to board a plane to visit the Far East? No way! Just get off the 405 freeway in central Orange County, California and sample the delights of "Little Saigon," the biggest, most famous Vietnamese community outside the country itself.

With some 233,000+ residents , the greater LA-Orange County area has long been a magnet for Vietnamese resettlement. But this is the area to stop off in to sample a steaming bowl of "pho," shop at any of hundreds of Vietnamese-run businesses of all types - or even plan your next trip to Big Saigon, for way less than your hometown travel agent could probably manage.

Your first stop should be the "Phuoc Loc Tho" mall, on the south side of Bolsa Avenue just east of Magnolia street in Westminster. Inside, you'll find book and music stores, lots of apparel, more than enough to eat and a surprising number of jewelers. In the parking lot, get in touch with your Zen essence as you admire statues of Confucius, Guanyin (Quan Am in Vietnamese) and other Asian sages, and get ready to hit the rest of this vibrant, slice of Southeast Asia in Southern California.

Across the street and just a few thousand yards east is Thuy Nga, the company that brings out the perennial end ever-popular "Paris by Night" music, video and comedy series, while their biggest competitor, ASIA Entertainment is on the same side of Bolsa, just steps east of Bushard street. Need some medical or legal services? Every profession in the larger economy is represented here, allowing thousands of Vietnamese to get along in America without a word of English. There's a plethora of Vietnamese media outlets too - most with offices on Moran street, while the first 24/7 Vietnamese-only television network, SBTN, is located a few miles north of here in Garden Grove, which is also chock full of Vietnamese people.

You can drive here if you want, but perhaps the most stress-free way in and out is OCTA bus route #64, which runs through the heart of Little Saigon, right past Phuoc-Loc-Tho. And by the way, if you're looking at a guidebook or tourist brochure in English, that mouthful is imprecisely translated to: "Asian Garden Mall." Ask any Vietnamese, though, and they'll tell you the shopping behemoth's name actually means: "Happiness, Longevity and Prosperity."

Most retail stores close around dinnertime, while restaurants, cafes and supermarkets keep throbbing away into the night. Bring cash: credit cards are still a rarity around here. Shop for tropical fruits, white rice Buddha statues and lotto tickets here, then visit a place of worship of your denomination that speaks Vietnamese - almost no matter what denomination that might be. Little Saigon radiates out from Bolsa as far as Garden Grove Boulevard to the north, and begins to peter out by the time you reach MacFadden Ave to the south. Within this area and as far as Harbor Boulevard to the east and Goldenwest street to the west, almost all the businesses are Vietnamese-owned, and you're as apt to hear the lilting (or sometimes loud and clipped) sounds of this Mon-Khmer language as English in the rest of Orange County, or Spanish in South-Central LA. Even postal employees speak Vietnamese here; mail some of the treasures you're sure to buy home from the US post office on Bolsa a few doors west of Thuy Nga, and across the street from the mall.

Little Saigon is a complex and sometimes controversial area. Even living here for years, all anybody - even Vietnamese residents - can claim is to have scratched its surface, or peeled the outermost layers of the onion. But nobody who loves ethnic neighborhoods should miss this treat. Perhaps the predominant image you'll come away from Little Saigon with is one of vitality. From a distinctly unassuming ethnic enclave founded in 1978, Little Saigon's growth parallels that of Orange County as a whole: from real orange groves to endless strip malls. But Little Saigon is no strip mall: it's a living, evolving world within a world, the way two generations of overseas Vietnamese put their best feet forward. You won't soon forget your foray into this exciting universe, and you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars, risk "economy class syndrome" or suffer jetlag to get there!

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Little Saigon-Area Weblinks

Including the following links doesn't mean I specifically endorse them or am in any way affiliated with them (I'm not). These are just a few helpful starting points for further information about this dynamic and vibrant area, representing several different voices in both Vietnamese and English. In one case, I worked there until last fall, but my criteria for inclusion in this list is the site's usefulness in directing you to more info or other sites for further research. No area I know stands still; think of these as information gateways to the Little Saigon area specifically, and the world of the Overseas Vietnamese in general. Feel free to e-mail me with suggestions for updates to this list, and don't be limited to it as you plan your own trip to this ever-changing part of the world. Thanks for reading, and HAVE FUN IN LITTLE SAIGON.

Little Saigon Radio. At 106.4FM, featuring something for everyone, this is the best established Vietnamese-language radio station in the area.

Little Saigon Net. This colorful site is definitely ad-driven. But that's not a bad thing; money makes this world go 'round, just like it does in the wider economy.

Wikipedia on Little Saigon. This article is loaded with clickable links (in the text) about all aspects of the history, culture, economy and development of this area.

Big Plans for Little Saigon. A news story about how this community is putting itself on the tourist map.

My Little Saigon. Another portal for area businesses, statistics, media outlets, cultural celebrations and much, much more.

ThuyNga Online. The official website of the biggest and best established overseas Vietnamese record company.

VietShare. A Vietnamese language shopping and entertainment site with a Buddhist emphasis.

Chua Vietnam. A comprehensive list of Vietnamese Buddhist temples, listing several in the Little Saigon area.

Little Saigon Slowly Kicking the Redbaiting Habit. The history of Viet Kieu (Overseas Vietnamese) anticommunist attitudes is colorful and important for non-Vietnamese Americans to understand. Start your investigation here.

Governor courting Little Saigon. Even the Terminator has visited Little Saigon!

Greggman on Little Saigon. Despite its less than professional-looking appearance, this site has good directions and several people talking back and forth about what a great place Little Saigon is.

Westminster Chamber. This is the official site of the city of Westminster Chamber of Commerce.

Little Saigon's medicine man. Another OC Register slice of Little Saigon history.

Garden Grove - Westminster. This easy-to-read article shows what Phuoc Loc Tho mall and its decorative statuary looks like, and gives directions, opening hours and a phone number.

Poster Protest In Little Saigon. You might have heard or seen something about this violent protest against the Viet Kieu businessman who decided to put up a poster of Ho Chi Minh in his store window. Personally, I think it was just an attention-getting ploy - one that worked, though I bet he ended up wishing it hadn't!

SBTN TV. This is the internet home of the first 24-hour Vietnamese language television network, available all over the country, and even in Canada. [in Vietnamese]

THSV. Host of the annual Tet festival in the Little Saigon agglomerated communities of Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, etc, THSV is an acronym for "Tong Hoi Sinh Vien" - the umbrella for Vietnamese Student's associations at colleges all over the country.

Little Saigon Tours. I don't endorse (or even know anything about) these people; they're just here as an option.

Daytrip Pen's Little Saigon. A quick fact file, with tabs along the top which link to still more weblinks, pictures and information.

Viet Weekly. I used to work for this Garden Grove-based newspaper when they had an English language section. This site and the next one are the only ones I've ever had any kind of affiliation with. [in Vietnamese, with an English section]

BenBangs. Finally, check my homepage for interesting articles on all aspects of Vietnamese language and culture - and sign my guestbook!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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