I'm sitting in Gado Gado restaurant, in Seminyak, on Bali's once-thriving southwest coast. I'm under cover but outside a monsoonal torrent is barrelling down, gobs of rain lashing the leaves of the cottonwood trees. Puddles form in seconds. Streams spring from nowhere. It's the kind of storm you could watch for hours, if only I had someone to watch it with. But, apart from the waiters, I'm the only one here. A few years ago, I'd never have scored a table at Gado Gado, at least not without a booking. Now, the staff wander about, gazing into the rain - maybe they're hoping for it to wash away their problems. In the wake of the Kuta bombings of 2002, foreign arrivals dropped by half. Businesses failed. Workers were laid off. By 2004, tourism was recovering but then more bombs went off, in October 2005, killing 26 people in Kuta and nearby Jimbaran Bay. Though smaller, this second attack proved more damaging than the first. Arrivals plunged 60 per cent; airline Garuda slashed its services while Paradise Air, which used to bring in 20,000 visitors monthly, went under. For generations of travellers Bali has been the ultimate holiday destination. The island's allure began in the 1930s, when artists from Europe established tiny colonies in the central hills. In the 70s, hippies and surfers led the way for mass tourism, making Bali a home from home for anyone with US$100 in the bank and two weeks off work. An island of Hinduism in an ocean of Islam, Bali's exoticism remained intact throughout. Then came the bombs. Sitting here watching the rain, it occurs to me if any good is to come from them it might be that visitors will go beyond Kuta, to find a Bali they never knew existed. That's my plan, anyway. FROM KUTA to the fishing village of Canggu (pronounced Chungoo) is about 10km or 15km, depending on which turn-off you miss. In musical terms, this is just long enough to play most of side one of UB40's Greatest Hits. I know this because Wayan, my driver, is a big UB40 fan, a passion he shares with the rest of Bali's van drivers. We head west in the late afternoon, Wayan parting the traffic in his champagne-coloured Hilux. We pass through Legian, Seminyak and Kerobokan, past pottery shops and dry-goods stores. There are teahouses, temples and rice paddies pulsing verdantly in the scorching sun. Before long we're in Canggu, a place I first visited in 1991. There was little to speak of then, just a few houses and huts, and beachside stalls catering mainly to passing surfers. It's still a dozy village, home to a deserted beach, a modest temple and an intriguing hotel called Tugu Bali. People had described Tugu to me as 'haunted', 'a little bit strange' and 'utterly unique'. Walking in, I know exactly what they mean. The 'lobby' is a colossal open-sided pavilion covered by a vaulted alang-alang, or grass-thatch, roof. Ringing the room are six-metre timber columns topped by totemic boma heads, carved faces whose hideousness wards off evil spirits. Enormous silken banners flutter above. The hiss of the surf blows in on the breeze. In the centre of the room, on a raised stage, stands a five-metre-high wooden Garuda, the fabulous half-man, half-eagle ridden by Vishnu in Hindu mythology. Tugu - apart from being a luxury hotel - is also a living museum, set amid rice paddies and lotus ponds, a gloriously over-the-top shrine to Indonesian culture. The owner, hotelier Anhar Setjadibrata, is perhaps Indonesia's biggest collector of antiques, with which he decorates his properties. The following morning Wayan and I continue west. The road hugs the coast before turning inland, passing through jungle, both shaggy and tangled. After an hour we reach the market town of Tabanan and, shortly, Waka Gangga, another of those 'incredible' hotels I'd been told about, a 'must-see' according to one Bali regular. Waka Gangga is, indeed, a sight to behold, with 10 glass-sided bungalows spread among paddies overlooking Yeh Gangga beach. But it's also entirely empty. People are staying away, presumably for fear of being bombed. Hearing we were coming, the kitchen staff have prepared coffee and fresh-baked cakes. I'm not hungry but eat them anyway. They haven't seen a guest for weeks. ON THE way to Ubud, Wayan apologises. 'I'm sorry for the bomb, Tim.' I reply I am sorry too - for him. Wayan has two young children and a wife, in Denpasar. Before the latest bombs he drove non-stop. Now he's lucky if he has one job a day. His wife sells dates on the street in Legian. I ask him what he'd do if there were another bomb. 'Sell the van, go back to my village.' He shrugs. 'But I'm a driver now. I don't want to grow rice. This is what I do now; I want to be a driver.' The trip to Ubud takes two hours, a slow, bumpy ride north. Ever since the Sukawati royal family invited artists such as German Walter Spies to settle there in the 20s, Ubud has been a centre for Bali's artistic community. And while it's not in the mountains proper, Ubud is isolated from all that typifies the south; instead of surf shops there are galleries and woodcarvers. In Ubud I witness a royal cremation. I'm invited by the owner of the hotel I'm staying at, who happens to be the Prince of Ubud, Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa (or Pak Tjok, for short). Pak Tjok traces his lineage back 24 generations to Majapahit, the great Hindu kingdom of ancient Java. He explains that independence in 1945 saw the rajahs lose their legal power, along with multiple wives. Now his role is more tutelary: 'People come to me for personal advice,' he says. 'Family feuds and money problems, especially since the bombs.' Up at the temple several hundred people are lounging about in timber pavilions, smoking and eating. The air swirls with incense and the chant of a high priest, a white-bearded character who sits atop a four-metre-high bamboo altar. The dead person, who turns out to be Pak Tjok's older sister, has already been cremated - three weeks ago. 'Now we wash her spirit, making sure the soul can pass on to the next life free of bad karma,' he says. Opposite the priest stands an elaborate pyre. 'On top there's a sandalwood figurine representing my sister,' Pak Tjok explains. 'At 4am we'll burn it then drive across the island to throw the ashes in the sea.' A bevy of women circumnavigates the pyre, holding aloft a plump white duck. 'The duck is important,' says Pak Tjok. 'The duck plucks food from the mud and turns it into something useful. Very Balinese, no? We make the best from a bad situation.' The following morning we leave for the mountains. Pak Tjok has told me about a high, misty village called Munduk, 'about the only place in Bali that gets cold'. We drive northwest, over hills riddled with gorges. At about lunchtime we hit Munduk, its houses and shops clinging to a mountainside. The real attraction here is walking. So, having taken a room in a deserted hotel, ducks patrolling the paddies below my balcony, I set off for a stroll. This is a mistake. To cut a long (and terrifying) story short, I become lost. For hours. I start by heading for a waterfall that a man at the hotel assured me was 45 minutes away but find myself almost immediately disoriented, swallowed by impossibly dense jungle. The only thing that saves me is running into a young man called Nyoman, who, appearing out of nowhere, accompanies me back to the village. Nyoman speaks good English, a result of the fact he waits on tables in, of all places, Gado Gado. He comes up every month to drop off money to his father-in-law, who farms coffee, cloves and cacao on a tiny jungle plot. He earns 5 million rupiah (HK$4,300) a year. I offer Nyoman some money - I'm grateful and want to help - but he declines. 'This time just for friendship,' he says, slapping me on the back. 'Maybe I see you at Gado Gado.' Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali.