The brothers’ surprise trip was their first back to their homeland in 27 years though the Royal Palace has not released any official information or public comment on their visit.
“The week has passed quickly. There are many things I want to do and fulfill but there is little time. Since I have returned to Thailand this time, I have received warmth from everyone I met. I have met various Thais and been able to talk to them closely,” said Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, the King’s second oldest son, from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Returning to Thailand after so long away had filled the “holes in my heart,” he added.
“This is such a great feeling,” Vacharaesorn said.
Their return sparked interest among many in the kingdom and drove speculation that the sons may officially be welcomed back into the royal family, after almost three decades of estrangement.
Social media has been filled with Thais speculating on the reason for their visit, despite a strict lese majeste law which carries lengthy jail sentences for any perceived criticism of the royal family and makes any frank discussion about their role fraught with legal risk.
Vacharaesorn, 42, arrived in Thailand last week and visited a daycare center for underprivileged children and a Buddhist temple in the capital.
His brother Chakriwat Vivacharawongse, 40, the King’s third son, arrived several days later and the two visited Siriraj Hospital together and paid respects to an image of their late grandfather and to their great-grandfather, Prince Mahidol – considered the father of modern medicine in the country.
Following the hospital visit, Chakriwat – a medical doctor – posted on his official Facebook page: “I am able to be a doctor today because of his inspiration. And I will continue to follow in his footsteps in delivering this inspiration to all medical students.”
The surprise news conference from the two brothers as they departed the country of their birth was tinged with emotion.
Vacharaesorn did most of the talking, holding the hand of his younger brother, who remained mostly silent throughout.
During a brief mention of his father, Vacharaesorn’s voice noticeably trembled.
“I am grateful for His Majesty the King’s kindness, as well as the nation. I am happy to be born in Thailand,” he said. “This time I have to leave again, I hope in the future I and my brothers and family will be able to visit Thailand again.”
It is unclear whether the sons met with King Vajiralongkorn, 71, while they were in the country.
Vacharaesorn and Chakriwat are among four sons of Vajiralongkorn and his second wife, Yuvadhida Polpraserth, who he married in 1994 and later divorced.
Along with their mother and other siblings, they were estranged after the separation and do not hold formal royal titles. They have been living and working in the United States since leaving Thailand.
Their sister Princess Sirivannavari was later welcomed back to Thailand following their estrangement and is a fashion designer and equestrian.
She has frequently been seen in public with the King and Queen, and during mass anti-government protests in 2020 told CNN that Thailand is a peaceful country, saying “we love the Thai people, no matter what.”
The brothers’ trip to their homeland comes at a difficult time for the royal family after the King’s oldest child, 44-year-old Princess Bajrakitiyabha, was hospitalized in an unconscious state in December after collapsing due to a heart problem.
In January, the palace said in a statement that Bajrakitiyabha suffered a severe heart arrhythmia due to inflammation caused by a mycoplasma infection and doctors have been using a support system to keep her heart, lung and kidneys functioning.
There is no clear heir apparent to the King.
Vajiralongkorn, who was born in 1952, ascended to the throne in 2016 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who had reigned for seven decades.
The King has been married four times – to Soamsawali Kitiyakara in 1977, Yuvadhida 17 years later, Srirasmi Suwadee in 2001 and Queen Suthida, a former general and deputy commander of the King’s Royal Guard Command who he married days before his coronation in 2019.
He has seven children from his marriages – two daughters and five sons – only one of whom, 18-year-old Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, is officially recognized as a prince.