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South Africa Day Two: Free State

PHOTO: Protea Hotel Clarens, a Marriott property, in South Africa (c) Sery Kim

I'm not sure what I expected when I saw on my media FAM itinerary we were going to stop in Free State. I should have googled the region but instead I let my visceral opinions be calcified by watching Blood Diamonds on my long, LONG South African Airways flight over -- which is basically to say I knew nothing about this region except that almost two decades ago it was an area known for ethnic conflict.

Today, the Free State is no longer an area of war but rather a very quiet, very simple region of South Africa. Clarens, within Free State, is one of the tiniest cities I have ever been too -- "about 7,000 people live here" -- and there was no evident signs of any form of conflict at all.

To get to Clarens, you have to drive since public transportation is not an option. En route, you'll barely see a petrol station let alone houses so you really have a chance to settle your brain. It's about a four hour drive from Johannesburg and is nestled amongst an abundance of natural beauty. In the above photo, taken from the four-star Marriott property Protea Hotel Clarens, you can see the Maluti Mountains, located within close proximity to the Golden Gate National Park as well as the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

PHOTO: Downtown Clarens (c) Sery Kim

I'm not necessarily sure I would recommend anyone go to Clarens unless you just want to relax from the city life. Typically the visitors to the area come for the emerging art scene. A few quaint galleries but nothing life-changing. Same for the shopping; however, I bought this great dress in Clarens for less than $30 so I was quite pleased. My colleagues joked about my black belt in shopping since I bought the dress on my way back from the loo. ;-)

PHOTO: The dress I bought in Clarens (c) Sery Kim

For food and drink, we went to the local brewery Clarens Brewery. Simple food, nothing spectacular, and decent beer. Very cheap. I'm pretty confident my meal, including beer, was about $7. Crazy how affordable the entire country of South Africa is for Americans. If anything, one should just come here because it's cheaper to come to South Africa, eat drink sleep shop well, than to go to almost any other country in the world.

PHOTO: Exterior patio seating at Clarens Brewery (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Simple lunch at Clarens Brewery (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Beer tasting at Clarens Brewery (c) Sery Kim

Most people, however, come to Clarens for the Golden Gate National Park and not the art scene. It's a really quick 45 minute drive and it's beautiful if not mesmorizing. You can just drive through the park or actually go to the Kingdom of Lesotho's village. We, of course, did both and the village brought me some sadness. It's always interesting to see how a village attempts to have its own identify in today's pulsating modern life. I wouldn't go back there but I'm glad I stopped by to get some perspective.

Otherwise, overall, the Clarens day for me was not the most fun. I'm 100% a luxury travel kind of person so I would have loved to have spent extra days in Cape Town.

PHOTO: A great tree at the Lesotho Village (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Interior of one of the huts in the Lesotho Village (c) Sery Kim

PHOTO: Selfie in Golden Gat National Park (c) Sery Kim

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