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China's highway system, nonexistent 20 years ago, is growing rapidly, and journey times by road between many cities have been dramatically cut to the point where on a few routes, buses are now faster than trains. Although most buses are fairly battered, in some areas they offer a remarkable level of luxury—particularly on the east coast, where there are the funds to pay for a higher quality of travel. Some buses even have on-board toilets and free bottled water.

Many bus stations now offer a variety of services. At the top end are kdngtido (air-conditioned) gdosu (high-speed, usually meaning that toll expressways are used) hdohud (luxury) buses, on which smoking is usually forbidden and that rule is largely enforced. These tickets are usually easy to obtain at the bus station, and prices are clearly displayed and written on the ticket. There are no extra charges for baggage, which in smaller and older buses is typically piled up on the cover over the engine next to the driver. It's worth booking a day ahead to get a seat at the front, which may have more legroom and better views.

Buses usually depart punctually, pause at a checking station where the number of passengers is compared with the number of tickets sold in advance, then dither while empty seats are filled with groups waiting at the roadside who bargain for a lower fare.

Sleeper buses, although cheaper, should generally be avoided when an overnight train is an alternative. Usually they have three rows of two-tier berths, which are extremely narrow and do not recline fully.

Transport can vary widely in quality in rural and remoter areas, but it is usually dirty and decrepit, and may be shared with livestock.

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