Published: 21st APRIL 2021

How cycling changed my life: The story of a Vietnamese author in Scotland

Ngan Nguyen is a Vietnamese author. When Covid-19 hit the UK, she moved to Scotland to chase her dream of writing stories in English. Here, she shares her story and explains how cycling inspires her creative thinking and gives her a peaceful life.

After moving to Scotland, Ngan discovered lots of great cycling routes in the Aberdeenshire area.

Cycling changed my life

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a bicycle would change my life.

The most unforgettable journey was cycling with my Scottish partner from Vietnam to Paris to attend COP21 in 2015.

It took us more than ten months to finish our epic journey and we travelled further than we planned: to London.

It wasn't an easy journey, either physically or mentally, especially for a person unused to travelling, and my parents had turned down my plan.

But we continued to cycle around Southeast Asia for five months for our honeymoon in 2017.

When I left Vietnam to study in Scotland in the summer of 2019, the most important thing I carried was that bicycle.

"The more I know about cycling and have had chance to meet cyclists around the world, the more I find that there is no discrimination among them."

Riding a bike makes it easy to make friends

I used to cycle as a schoolgirl, but, like most people, I stopped as soon as I left college.

According to the culture in some Asian countries, cycling is for the poor, and people want cars.

During the six months dry season in Ho Chi Minh city where I lived, the heat can reach 35 degrees, and half of the year it soaks in rain.

Millions of people use their motorbikes and there are no cycle lanes. It's difficult for people to accept cycling.

But the more I know about cycling and have had the chance to meet cyclists around the world, the more I find that there is no discrimination among them.

Cyclists usually stop to say hello or have a chat about their routes and recommend interesting things to do.

It's so easy to make friends with strangers in the middle of nowhere.

Ngan's cycling trips have made her life feel more peaceful and closer to nature.

Cycling inspires creative thinking

I fell in love with the beauty and history of Scotland after travelling through this country in the winter of 2016.

I published a book about my interesting journey to introduce Scotland to Vietnamese readers.

I then decided to return to Scotland to study for a Masters degree in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 affected my plan to discover this country.

Whilst the world witnessed the unprecedented Covid-19, I spent my time writing as a way of raising my spirits.

Once a week, we cycled to explore Aberdeenshire.

And each time I left my house, I knew for sure that I would find beautiful things along the coastal route, the Don and the Dee rivers, in the woods and in the beautiful countryside.

Aberdeen’s tranquillity and stunning landscapes through four seasons inspired me to write and feel how lucky I was.

Even though Aberdeenshire is quite hilly, it was good for me to keep fit, and descending from hills always gives me a feeling of freedom.

To many writers, walking or jogging is the best way to find great writing ideas.

However, I found my most creative moments on the bicycle which has travelled with me throughout much of the world.

The views you can find by cycling around Scotland are second to none.

It helps to clear your mind

Then we moved to Kirkcudbright, my husband’s hometown, to look after my mother-in-law after her hip operation.

I was so happy to have the opportunity to explore Dumfries & Galloway, the setting for my favourite novel – The 39 Steps, by John Buchan.

I’ve published a number of books of fiction and nonfiction and I know how important it is to be alone.

Cycling is a good way to be alone, even though I usually cycle with my partner.

When I cycle, I feel as though I am flying like a bird.

My mind is free and ideas flash through it that I can learn by heart and hurry home to write them down.

Sometimes, I just need to observe the world and out of the blue the ideas come to me in an unexpected moment whilst I am cycling.

The more I cycle, the more I feel happy about my creative thinking.

Because of Scotland's relaxed laws around wild camping, you can easily plan a longer cycling trip staying close to nature.

It's the best way to explore myself and my surroundings

Cycling is the perfect way to explore Scotland.

It's easy to stop whenever you want so that you can shoot a beautiful landscape or interesting moment of life.

I often write fantasy, and I feel like I'm in a fantasy world in Scotland and don’t need to challenge my imagination.

I can hear birds singing, see flowers showing their early signs of the seasons.

I feel my bicycle speeding through the forest with a whoosh and let the wind touch my face.

We often choose paths with little traffic and have many beautiful things to explore.

Unlimited green fields, ancient castles, peaceful towns and quiet beaches.

Scotland is an incredible place to explore by bike during all seasons.

Cycling really is for everyone

I’m off and away from home with my bike heading to National Cycle Route 7 to explore the South West.

Here, Covid-19 feels far away.

I forget that the world is turning up and down and spinning around.

As the wheels roll, it is a sweet pleasure to cycle among the generosity of nature in Spring.

No two cycling journeys are ever the same.

They give me the thrills and spills of being alive.

As cycling has changed my life, I was happy to be a part of the Sustrans campaign #ChooseToChallenge for International Women’s Day.

It’s such an old way of thinking that cycling is only for men or athletic women.

Everybody can do it.

And sooner or later, more and more people will be enthusiastic about active travel once they have placed their hands on the handlebars.


Read more about why cycling and walking are great for your mental health.


Feeling inspired by Ngan and want to give cycling a go? Take a look at our beginner's guide to cycling for all the tips and information you need to get started.

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