Los Angeles Thai community mourns passing of King Bhumibol

October 13, 2016 10:25 PM EDT

Chotika Cheysobhon (L) and Jittra Khamsaart (R) have their picture taken as people memorialize the death of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Wat Thai of Los Angeles temple in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fal

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By Norma Galeana

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Many residents of Los Angeles's bustling Thai community on Thursday mourned the death of Thailand's long-standing and widely-adored leader, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The king, the world's longest-reigning monarch, died in a Bangkok hospital after 70 years of rule. He had been in poor health for several years but his death shocked the Southeast Asian nation of 67 million people and plunged it into mourning.

In Southern California, home to the largest Thai community in the world outside of Thailand, the sentiment was no different. About 100,000 people of Thai descent came to the United States in three major waves starting in the 1950s and continuing to the present, according to Thai Community Development Center Executive Director Chancee Martorell.

About 50,000 reside in Los Angeles County, mainly dispersed between two major clusters within the city of Los Angeles – the east Hollywood community known as Thai Town and the northeastern corner of the San Fernando Valley, she said.

Stella Boonyawan grieved over the news outside the Buddhist Wat Thai Temple in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley after praying for the late king.

"I just know that I loved my king, he is the king that helped everybody, helping the poor, everything, you know?" Boonyawan, a Thai expatriate, said. "You'll never find a king like our Thai king, in the whole world. Our king (was) the best."

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a king worshipped as a father-figure and who was born in the United States, guided the nation through decades of change and turmoil. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to be the new king though he does not command the same adoration that his father earned over a lifetime on the throne.

Nikki Hwonsuwan, a waiter at the Thai Patio on Hollywood Blvd., the main thoroughfare through Thai Town, said she and her family were in mourning.

"My king passed away, so I was... so depressed," she said. "I think it was the time that he needed to rest."

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Los Angeles; Writing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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