Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida leave the Grand Palace after a religious ceremony to mark his 71st birthday in Bangkok, Thailand, July 28, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Bangkok: The second-eldest son of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn visited a child-care centre for underprivileged families on Tuesday during a surprise visit to the kingdom, the first time he has been back in his homeland in 27 years.

The trip by Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, 42, comes at a fraught time for the Thai royal family, with the monarch's eldest daughter in a coma since December.

Vacharaesorn, who works at a law firm in New York, visited the Foundation for Slum Child Care, which is supported by the royal family, and greeted well-wishers.

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Clad in jeans and a casual black shirt, he posed for photographs in front of portraits of his father and his grandfather, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016 after a 70-year reign.

"I am delighted to return ... I have been away for a long time, 27 years," Vacharaesorn told reporters at the Bangkok foundation.

"It is like a dream come true to be back," he said.

Many Thais have been surprised by Vacharaesorn's return. A picture of him in a "tuk-tuk" auto-rickshaw in Bangkok, that he posted on Monday on his Facebook page, which has more than 80,000 followers, received tens of thousands of likes.

On X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, the hashtag #SonOfTenReturnToThailand was mentioned almost 390,000 times. His father's formal title is King Rama X.

Those who saw Vacharaesorn were impressed.

"I am very moved, he has been away for a long time. To me he is still a member of the royal family," said Angsana Seeprasit, 66.

Vacharaesorn is the second of four sons of King Vajiralongkorn's second wife, Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, a former actress whom the then-crown prince divorced in 1996.