21 Questions with Jeninne Lee-St. John, T+L SEA’s New Editor in Chief

Raised in Washington, D.C., and having lived in Bangkok for eight years, Jeninne’s got a world of opinions.

Jul 7, 2020

You’ve been at T+L for eight years now–what is your favorite work trip you’ve ever taken?

Back in 2015, I went to Palawan, but not to the parts everyone knows. Along the central west coast of the island is a town no one had heard of called San Vicente, where the mayor, a friend of a friend, was hatching a long-term plan to develop her beach town sustainably and responsibly. Because there were no other tourists, my photographer, Richard Marks, and I had the perfect turquoise seas filled with coral reefs and sea turtles and teeny islands–where at midday our boat crew would cook up freshly caught fish–to ourselves most of the time. Because we were guests of the mayor, we had access to a Cessna, from which the pilot agreed to remove the door so Richard could lean out of the plane to get clear shots of El Nido when we flew over it at sunset.

Noodles or rice? 

Noodles.

Beach or mountains?

Beach.

Was there a trip that inspired your love for travel? 

The summer I was 12, I spent a month in France, living with a wonderful family in Annonay in Ardeche. Running around the town’s storybook architecture, which dates back to medieval times, with my friends seemed surreal. We went hot-air ballooning, drank hot chocolate for breakfast, ate roast horse every Sunday, and my host family had a vineyard with a pool in the middle. My classmates then reconvened in Paris for a week. Obviously, I cried all the way back to the U.S.  

What about a hotel stay?

Wharekauhau Lodge, at the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand, is an inspirational example of immersive, get-down-in-the-dirt but also sleep-in-the-clouds luxury. You can helicopter in, then hop on an ATV. Close to Martinborough (so the local wines are amaze), it’s a working ranch that raises the lambs you have for dinner in the sprawling main-house manse before retiring to your gorgeous gossamer-white cottage facing Cook Strait.

What’s one amenity you require in every hotel room?

A Bluetooth speaker or, better, sound system. I need to listen to the news while I shower!

If you could travel with only one book?

The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway. Sorry! I know it’s cliche, but it’s formative for a young American in Europe–which I was when I first read it–and is somehow still spot-on of expat life in general.

Which luggage do you use? 

I have a set of Away suitcases: three light hard-cases that nest in each other like pretty pink matryoshkas. I also have a pair of Patagonia duffels for shorter trips, more adventurous ones or when boats are involved.

What is your carry-on must-pack? 

Headphones.

How many flights have you missed? 

Eeek. Three. But considering how often I usually fly (four times a month) and when I like to arrive at the airport (65 minutes before the plane, thanks) I feel like that’s not bad? Plus, one of those flights I missed by 24 full hours, so that shouldn’t even count!

Cocktails or vino? 

Champagne!

Train or boat? 

I love trains, but the freedom of sailing is magic.

If you could only eat one type of Asian cuisine, which would it be? 

What are you trying to do to me–make me betray my adopted country of Thailand, or my previous one (Vietnam)? OK, I’m going to play it smart and let the nostalgia for my grandmother’s Cantonese food carry this one.

You eat out a lot. Best way to get you to put down your fork?

Put cilantro in my food.

Most ridiculous trip you’ve ever taken?

My friend Ashley and I flew to Singapore for dinner one night because the wine pairing was with a bunch of great Slovenian vintages we couldn’t (and still can’t) get in Hong Kong and Bangkok, where we, respectively, live. 

Which hotel that you’ve stayed at has the best robe? 

Nay Palad Hideaway in Siargao, Philippines, has crazy-comfortable hooded and tasseled Turkish towel bathrobes. I needn’t have brought any clothes for that trip because I spent the whole time in a bikini and that robe. Six Senses has been rolling out to all their resorts these snuggly white, plush, hoodie bathrobes with bright purple statement stitching. Bonus points: the company that makes them, Madison Collection, donates a ceramic water filter to a needy family in Haiti or the Dominican Republic for every sale.

Is there anywhere you are dying to visit? 

Can you believe I haven’t seen the pandas in Chengdu? I’ve been dying to go find some chill in Bhutan. And I’m desperate to cruise the southern and eastern isles of the Indonesian archipelago on a small boat with a personable, flexible, well-sailed captain (I’m looking at you, Rascal Voyages and Kundanil Explorer). Outside of Asia, I really want to go to Georgia and Colombia.

What’s your go-to vacation look? 

There’s nothing cuter, more comfortable and versatile than resort wear. 

Your favorite view?

Back to my grandmother. She lived in a high-rise in lower Manhattan where the hallway from the elevator was outdoors and angled in such a position that from her front door you could look one way and see the World Trade Center (and now Freedom Tower) and the other and see clear up to Midtown and the Empire State Building. I remember the view as a child through the railing–all of the city spread before you from 17 floors up!–and, as an adult, every time I turned that key, I marveled at being so fortunate to live in the heart of the wonder that is New York City. Maybe it’s why everywhere I’ve ever settled, including London and Saigon, I’ve planted myself as close as possible to the center of town.

Is there a brand you think is making a real difference in the travel industry?

Six Senses. There are many hotels and travel agencies large and small doing many wonderful things for the world, but whenever we are looking for an example of a hotel that is proactive in sustainability, community engagement and whole mind-body health, their name always comes up and often leads the pack.

How do you have the best work trip ever?

Go diving, take a surf lesson, meet a chef, taste a local alcohol, have a session with a traditional healer.

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