It was only 7pm, but the rain clouds that had been following me all week were making it seem much later in Tainan. I peered through the window of the car, wondering where the driver was taking me. We seemed to be heading down a dark, narrow one-way street where half the shops were shut.
Did he have the right address,I wondered. Of course, I’ve stayed in a fair number of Taiwan’s boutique hotels. Most were hidden in octogenarian buildings with narrow stairways and wheezing, clanking elevators, but usually turned out to be pleasantly cozy. But the driver was turning into an even darker, narrower side street.
U.I.J Hotel & Hostel is big by “boutique” standards, with 87 hotel rooms and 110 hostel beds across 9 floors. I couldn’t tell when I checked in at night, but I soon realized the next day that the hotel sits right smack in the middle of downtown Tainan, just a stone’s throw from the newly opened Tainan Art Museum.
In fact, the hotel’s name comes from its location: You’ai Street, or you ai jie in Mandarin.
Lobbies made for lounging
I’m not ashamed to say I fell in love with the lobby at first sight. Mainly because of the books. And also the plants. If you’re a bookworm who likes literary-themed accommodations like Book & Bed Tokyo, you’ll want to add U.I.J Hotel & Hostel to your list.
While my friend was helping to check us in, I browsed the books and knickknacks on display. While most hotel lobbies are places of transit that induce the desire to flee to your room as quickly as possible, the U.I.J hotel lobby is also a 24-hour bookstore called BBBooks, and feels like a living room. It beckons you to sit down and get a feel of the place. Perhaps with a flat white from the coffee bar? Yes, please.
Upon check-in, you’ll get your key in a little leather pouch attached to a book, usually a themed city guide with plenty of pictures for those who can’t read Chinese. The lift lobbies are yet another surprise reading nook where you can grab design and architecture magazines.
I got to stay at a Deluxe Room on the 8th floor that also happened to have a view of the new Tainan Art Museum Building 2 (do request for this view when booking). Block-out curtains do a fine job of letting you enjoy your sleep, and the pillows were so comfy for my side-sleeper neck and shoulders that I’ve vowed to find something similar for myself.
The Deluxe rooms also come with a Crosley record player, which meant I got my virgin hipster record-listening experience here (and yes, I Googled how to use the record player since I didn’t want to damage the vinyl). The reception staff will happily help you swap the two records in your room with any others you like in the lobby, but they’re mostly jazz albums and movie soundtracks.
I’m no fan of industrial design, but U.I.J has done it well with little luxe touches like Malin+Goetz amenities, complimentary sparkling water, and a custom-made toiletry pouch that invites you to take it home. It’s a shame there’s no desk – that can be a deal-breaker for writers or business travelers.
The bathroom is generously sized, but this is mainly thanks to the bathtub – an amenity I hardly ever use unless I’m staying with my partner in a room equipped with a double-size tub. I’d be just as happy with a rain shower, since hot showers are my one indulgence.
Call me the Goldilocks of hotel bathrooms, but given my experience with hundreds of poorly chosen faucet/sink combos, I’m pleased to announce that this one is just right: the water stream isn’t too close to the edge of the sink, and doesn’t splash violently all over the counter while I’m trying to scrub off my makeup. The lights are bright enough too, even if they’re not the most flattering.
Food & drink
If breakfast is included in your stay, head down to in-house restaurant Dor留 (a play on dou liu, meaning to linger) to choose from a menu of Taiwanese or western dishes to go with your free-flow coffee or tea. In my opinion, the space feels unfinished and the meals aren’t fantastic, so I’d recommend heading out for a local breakfast instead. After all, Tainan is famous for its food.
In contrast, the Open Kitchen and Hello Salon on the 3rd floor, designed for hostel guests, feels more welcoming. You can prepare your own meals here, and the kitchen is fully equipped in every sense of the word: you’ll even find a coffee grinder, gooseneck kettles, and coffee drippers should you want to brew your own pour-over.
Don’t miss this…
I found the armchair next to the record player surprisingly cozy and spent my limited free time curled up there, flipping through my key-book while listening to Thelonious Monk. It’s a shame I didn’t get to check out the rooftop Free Terrace, which should be lovely in winter/spring weather. Given how fascinating Tainan is, though, I’d happily return for another stay.