Memorable maiden trip to Rio de Janeiro

I had always wanted to go to Rio. There were so many fabulous things that I had heard about it that I was fascinated.

When I decided to fly back to Washington DC for my doctoral graduation, a whisper in my head, said this might be the time.

Before I knew it, we already up in the air. A 22-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Washington DC, and the next day 11 hours' flight out to Rio de Janeiro.

Two weeks later, it was a 24-hour flight back to KL. That's the longest I had been in the air within the span of two weeks. It was tiring but we (my daughter and I) didn't seem to feel it. I think it was the excitement that knocked out whatever anxiety we might have had.

Mother and daughter at the famous steps of Escadaria Selaron, the masterpiece of the late Chilean artist Jorge Selaron.

Rio is the most expensive city in Brazil, and one of the most expensive in all of South America. But it is definitely way cheaper than in North America, especially Canada.

In Montreal, we stayed at the YWCA hostel that had a shared bathroom. But in Rio, we stayed at a four-star hotel right on Copacabana Beach.

That's how cheap our trip to Rio was, compared to the one to Montreal. If that's not enough, consider that Canada has the GST-equivalent tax of 15 per cent while Brazil does not.

The only reason that might explain the difference is we went to Rio during the off-peak season while we were in Montreal during summer which is clearly their high season.

And it turned out that Rio is much safer than I thought it would be. It is certainly incomparable to the United States or Canada, and is at least safer than Belize, Jamaica, Mexico or even Costa Rica.

Except for the guided tours to the favela (shanty town settlements) and the resort town of Buzios, I did all the other attractions on my own. I always took taxis, something I never did while I was in Central America.

Even during the night, we wandered about in the streets to find places to eat or souvenir stores to do a little shopping. As long as you know which places to avoid, you should be fine in Rio.

The other thing that I found quite a challenge was the language. Brazilians speaks Portuguese while the rest of Latin America speaks Spanish.

I had thought, since I am already familiar with Spanish, I wouldn't have problems with Portuguese. Man, I was totally wrong. Yes, some of the words are quite similar, but many other words are totally different.

For starters, thank you in Spanish is gracias while in Portuguese, it is obrigado, how about that? But, certainly, knowing a little Spanish really helps as it is much easier to find someone who speaks Spanish rather than one who speaks English, in Rio.

Theatro Municipal, home of Rio's opera, orchestra and ballet.

I don't know if I have any other words to describe my feelings towards Rio. I love everything about Rio - the place, the beach, the people, the foods, the music, the weather … everything!

Yes, it may still be rough around the edges, but which place isn't? Even Washington DC still has that. Thus, despite the hiccups here and there, it is still one of the most memorable experience for us.

Obrigado, Rio - thank you for being so wonderful to us and till we meet again, tchau (goodbye).

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.