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Bus

Long-distance bus (长途公共汽车; chángtú gōnggòng qìchē) services are extensive and reach places you cannot reach by train; with the increasing number of intercity highways, journeys are getting quicker.

Buses & Stations

Routes between large cities sport larger, cleaner and more comfortable fleets of private buses, some equipped with toilets and hostesses handing out snacks and mineral water; shorter and more far-flung routes still rely on rattling minibuses into which as many fares as possible are crammed. Buses often wait until they fill up before leaving, or (exasperatingly) trawl the streets looking for fares.

Sleeper buses (卧铺客车; wòpù kèchē) ply popular long-haul routes, costing around double the price of a normal bus service. Bunks can be short, however, and there have been several fatal fires in recent years.

Bus journey times should be used as a rough guide only. You can estimate times for bus journeys on nonhighway routes by calculating the distance against a speed of 25km per hour.

All cities and most towns have one or more long-distance bus stations (长途汽车站; chángtú qìchēzhàn), generally located in relation to the direction the bus heads in. Most bus stations have a left-luggage counter. In many cities, the train station forecourt doubles as a bus station.

Tickets

Tickets are getting more expensive as fuel prices increase, but are cheaper and easier to get than train tickets; turn up at the bus station and buy your ticket on the spot. The earlier you buy, the closer to the front of the bus you will sit, although you may not be able to buy tickets prior to your day of travel. At the time of writing, ID was required for the purchase of bus tickets in restive Xīnjiāng.

Tickets can be hard to procure during national holiday periods.

Dangers & Annoyances

Breakdowns can be a hassle, and some rural roads and provincial routes (especially in the southwest, Tibet and the northwest) remain in bad condition. Precipitous drops, pot holes, dangerous road surfaces and reckless drivers mean accidents remain common. Long-distance journeys can also be cramped and noisy, with Hong Kong films and cacophonous karaoke looped on overhead TVs, and drivers continuously leaning on the horn – taking a music player is crucial for one’s sanity. Note the following when travelling by bus:

  • Seat belts are a rarity in many provinces.
  • Take plenty of warm clothes on buses to high-altitude destinations in winter. A breakdown in frozen conditions can prove lethal for those unprepared.
  • Take a lot of extra water on routes across areas such as the Taklamakan Desert.