BANGKOK (AFP): Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn's second son visited a Bangkok temple on Thursday, offering alms to monks as he makes a surprise first trip to the kingdom in more than two decades.
Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse has caused a stir this week with his unexpected return to Thailand, after spending most of his life abroad following his parents' divorce in the 1990s.
The 42-year-old visited the Yannawa temple in downtown Bangkok on Thursday morning, trailed by an eager crowd of reporters and photographers.
He handed out alms to the monks before releasing fish into the Chao Phraya river.
Vacharaesorn is the second of four sons from the king's second marriage -- to former actress Sujarinee Vivacharawongse -- none of whom hold official royal titles.
His visit comes at a sensitive time for the Thai royal family, with the king's eldest daughter Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol still in hospital after collapsing and losing consciousness in December.
The king, who has seven children from four marriages, has not formally named an heir apparent, though succession rules favour sons.
Earlier in the week, Vacharaesorn dropped in at the Foundation for Slum Child Care, which cares for underprivileged children in Bangkok, posing for photos and briefly speaking with well-wishers outside.
"I have been gone from this country for many years and coming back is like a dream come true," Vacharaesorn told media in a video clip later shared on Facebook.
He is believed to have landed at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport late Sunday, with surprised Thais snapping pictures.
The hashtag "SonofTenReturnsToThailand" -- a reference to his father's formal title of Rama X -- was briefly trending on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Tens of thousands liked an image of him stepping from a Bangkok tuk-tuk, which he shared on his Facebook page Monday.
Brought up in the United States, Vacharaesorn works as a lawyer in New York and speaks English and French.
The palace has so far made no comment on the visit, which is expected to last 10 days.
The king and his close family are protected by Thailand's strict royal insult laws which shield them from almost all criticism and can carry heavy jail sentences. - AFP