Unveiling the essence of Asia

Activities with an Asian Flavour to do at Home while the World’s Locked Down


How to pass the time during the self-isolation

While the current crisis we are facing has caused us fear and stress, the strict lockdown rules imposed during the coronavirus outbreak have also led to many families across the world spending and enjoying more time together than usual. As with all situations there is always a silver lining to be found, even if sometimes they just take a little more finding. And how many times have you heard yourself saying that you just don’t have enough time in the day?

Presently it seems that all we have on our hands is time. Perhaps it would be easier if we looked at the lockdowns and isolation as a perfect opportunity for creativity, playing, learning new things, and spending quality time to take care of yourself and connect with your loved ones at home.

It is however true to say that the enforced lockdown without a clear end in sight is difficult to deal with mentally, and keeping ourselves locked inside for long periods of time is frustrating at the best of times. In this edition of our newsletter, we would like to help you and your family in your battles with isolation frustration. We hope the following tips and ideas from the Secret Retreats community will help you to make the most of this downtime.

Brewing a perfect cup of tea

Everyone has an opinion on how to make a perfect cup of tea, whether the debate is milk in first, or after, or the length of time the tea needs to steep, and even the type of teapot in which to brew invites debate. For most of us in the daily rush of our busy lives, the ‘art’ of tea-making involves us putting a tea bag in a cup, pouring boiling water over it and maybe finishing off with a squeeze of the bag with a teaspoon. Now that you have time on your hands, why not take time to perfect your art of making a cup of tea?

Making a perfect cup of tea is all in the details. There isn’t just one correct way to do it, but here are some things to keep in mind to ensure the best results as shared with us by our resident tea experts, the owners of Glenburn Tea Estate, a family owned working tea estate in Darjeeling since 1859.

1.  Always use freshly drawn water and discard previously boiled water sitting in the kettle before you prepare to make a fresh cup of tea. And never use a microwave to heat your water for tea making!

2.  When using black tea, boiling water is perfect for infusing the leaves.  However, for green tea and more delicate teas, the water should be a little cooler, ideally at about 80 degrees celsius.

3.  The ideal steeping time varies depending on the type of tea and your personal taste.  If you are going for just one cup then you should brew for 3 to 5 minutes.  More expensive teas like the white teas and oolong can also be enjoyed over multiple infusions. You can infuse 3 to 5 times for about 1 minute each time allowing for more than just one cup of tea per brew!

4. Try adding spices from your kitchen into hot tea as well. Cinnamon, lemon grass, fresh mint, ginger, cardamom, cloves and even orange and lemon peel will all enhance not just the taste and aroma of your cuppa but also contribute to the health-giving properties tea is famous for.

5. To brew a rich cup of Indian masala chai, add some strong tea to milk, ideally CTC Assam tea, and bring to the boil with pieces of ginger, cardamom and sugar to create a rich, milky infusion.

6. A cold brew tea is also a great option as well. Take your favorite type of tea and infuse it overnight in cold water.  It’s a completely different experience and tastes great!  Drink cold brewed tea chilled as you would iced-tea. And to spice it up you could add some lime and sugar or pieces of fruit or your favourite spices.

The fun part is to experiment and see what works for you, so spend some time trying different kinds of tea and re-discover tea like never before.


Crack out the popcorn

The lockdown is also a perfect time to catch up with movies you’ve been meaning to watch for ages but just not had the time. Watching movies is always a great way to escape reality for a few hours. Nattinee, the Secret Retreats Chief Concierge, has some great movie suggestions for you to enjoy. These 3 movies will satisfy your thirst for travel during the lockdown.

The Beach:

Are you longing for beautiful white sand beaches, tropical islands and beautiful azure seas with coral reefs teeming with tropical fish? Then ‘The Beach’ is just the movie for you. Filmed in Maya Bay in southern Thailand in the year 2000 ‘The Beach’ is a story of a tourist looking for a pristine, uninhabited, tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand with a beautiful hidden beach and lagoon. The scenery is picture perfect and with the lead actor a young Leonardo DiCaprio the movie action is fantastic too.

Eat, Pray, Love:

Very well known for being a book to change one’s perspective in life, the movie provides you beautiful settings and deep meaningful messages. It tells the story of one woman’s journey to travel and find herself again. Just the stunning views and natural beauty alone already make this movie well worth watching.

Darjeeling Limited:

Travel through vibrant India at the comfort of your home! This 2007 movie started when American businessman speeds through city streets of India in a taxi. He arrives at his train station, only to see the train, The Darjeeling Limited, pulling away. … Then he had summoned his brothers to reconcile and take a spiritual journey through India together.


Embark on a meditation journey

During the COVID-19 pandemic along with all the changes such as social distancing, anxiety is on the rise for many people. With social distancing, this is a great time to turn inward and practice mindfulness meditation to offset fear and panic. Ordinarily, you might travel to a beautiful retreat by the beach like Neeleshwar Hermitage Resort and nurture your mind and soul on a meditation course at this peaceful sanctuary. But as we are not allowed to travel at the moment, Altaf Chapri the owner of Neeleshwar Hermitage and an expert on meditation would like to share with you some tips for practicing and enjoying meditation at home to help us all cope better with the anxiety and stress caused to many of us by this current crisis.

Start by making yourself comfortable in a quiet corner. Relax your body and close your eyes. Slowly take a few deep breaths, observe but don’t control each inhalation and each exhalation. Feel your belly rise and fall with each deep breath, inhale through your nose for at least 3 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds and then exhale for at least 4 seconds through your mouth. Begin to chant a mantra slowly as you exhale. There are many mantras but perhaps the easiest and also the most important is the single word ‘Om’ which represents the sound of the creation of the universe, and gives a wonderful vibration perfect for meditation. It is better to vocalize the Om as you chant, but with practice mantras can be chanted silently too. When chanting is done correctly you should feel the vibrations of the chanting from your belly and up through the head.

This technique is a very simple, natural and effortless way of letting your mind settle down into an extremely calm and pleasant state of tranquillity. This mental quietness has a physical counterpart, giving your nervous system a uniquely deep rest. It brings extraordinarily efficient stress relief. The mental and physical restfulness has been clinically shown to have a positive impact on your blood pressure, immune system, eating habits, anxiety levels, promotes a good night’s sleep, etc.

The practice is perfectly suitable for a modern lifestyle. You can meditate anywhere that you can sit comfortably, all you have to do is close your eyes and start!  Whether you are at home in your favourite armchair, travelling in the car, plane, or train, sitting on your hotel bed or a park bench, or waiting for your flight in the airport, meditation is an easy and enjoyable way to re-charge your batteries.  As hundreds of testimonials demonstrate, doing meditation regularly will bring you calmness, clarity, energy, creativity and happiness. The best effects come with regular practice of two ten-minute (or longer) sessions a day (morning and evening).

The benefits of Meditations are:

•             It easy and enjoyable and anyone from the age of ten upwards can do it;

•             No control of thinking or effort to concentrate the mind is involved;

•             The positive effects are usually apparent from the first couple of sessions;

•             Meditation seems to affect all parts of the brain, making it function as a holistic and integrated whole.

Meditation will open the awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone.

If you are interested in learning more about mind Relaxation and Meditation, please follow this link for a full article => [CLICK HERE]

Massaman Curry, Empty Plates Bangkok – Thailand

Cooking up that awesome taste of Southeast Asia

Do you remember the taste of that rich, creamy, flavourful curry you had when last in Thailand? Chef Steven John, of Bangkok’s famed ‘Empty Plates’ restaurant, is pleased to share with you his recipe for Massaman curry, a delicious curry full of the flavours of southern Thailand, and a dish that often tops the rankings of the world’s favourite dishes.

Here’s Chef Steven’s recipe.


2 tbsp of vegetable or peanut oil
4 small lamb shanks
450 ml. coconut milk
300g. Massaman curry paste
1 cup of beef or vegetable stock
4 large potatoes (peeled and cut in quarters)
12 baby carrots
2 red onions (cut in quarters)
4-8 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ tbsp of fish sauce (add more to your taste)
1 tbsp of lime juice
1 tbsp of palm or coconut sugar
chopped cashew nuts to serve
fresh coriander or Thai basil leaves to garnish
Basmati rice

Marinade the lamb shanks with 4 tbsp. of Massaman paste mixed with some coconut milk overnight. Heat up a pot and add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and coriander seeds in to the hot pot for a few minutes until fragrant, but not to burn.

Add the oil and lay the marinated lamb shanks in the pot. Don’t overcrowd the pot. Give the lamb a good sear on all sides until the meat develops a crust on all sides. Remove the shanks and set aside in a bowl.

Fry the red onion in the pot until soft, add the Massaman paste until fragrant. Pour in the coconut milk and stir well. Then add beef or vegetable stock. Return the lamb to the pot. Bring it almost to a boil then lower the heat to very low, cover and cook for 1.5 hours. After an hour of cooking add the potatoes together with the baby carrots. Stir in fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar. Bring it up to a simmer. Let it cook uncovered for about 30-35 minutes or until the potatoes and carrots are tender and cooked through. Best served the next day after overnighting in the fridge and reheating to serve, the flavours will enrichen further. Sprinkle chopped cashews and fresh coriander before serving.

This dish is best enjoyed over Basmati rice cooked in chicken stock.


Lose yourself in good books

What can be better to wile away the hours than settling into a comfy chair, with a nice pot of tea and a good book? Stephane Junca, the managing director of Secret Retreats, is pleased to share with you his selection of inspiring and uplifting stories aimed to help raise your spirits, give you hope and help you through these difficult times.

The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura:

Explore eastern culture through this wonderful book from Kakuzo Okakura. This is an exquisite cultural history of Japan centered around the Japanese tea ceremony and a philosophy of “teaism” which includes elements of Zen and Taoism.

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling:

‘Kim’ is set in an imperialistic world, a world strikingly masculine, dominated by travel, trade and adventure. Two men – a boy, who grows into early manhood, and an old Tibetan Lama, are at the center of the novel. It is a timeless celebration of friendship in a beautiful but often hostile environment. ‘Kim’ captures the opulence of India’s exotic landscape, overlaid by the uneasy presence of the British Raj. One of those books that should be on everyone’s must read list.


Practice easy yoga poses to relieve isolation anxiety and get fit at the same time

In most countries, fitness centres, sport clubs and gyms are closed. And staying at home for prolonged periods of time can pose a significant challenge for remaining physically active.

If you are a yoga beginner or thinking about having a go, now’s your chance! There really is no better way to get active and de-stress, and it’s easy to do at home too. The Secret Retreats property SLOW Villas, set on the beautiful island of Gili Air off Bali Indonesia, provides excellent yoga classes for its guests and the property’s co-founder, Julie Thonnard, is pleased to share some tips and instructions to get you started with some easy yoga that you can practice at home in the video clip above.


We hope you will enjoy trying some or all of these ideas. Maybe once this crisis is over and life goes back to its usual manic fast pace for us all, we may well look back on this lockdown experience and see it as a rare opportunity to retreat from the world, where we were able to find time for ourselves and our families, and perhaps develop or learn new skills too.

Take Care, Stay Safe, and the Secret Retreats community looks forward to welcoming you all back to Asia sometime soon.

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