Goodbye, Beaten Path

This expedition curator wants to help fellow travellers go off the beaten track.

By Edmund Wee      1 November 2019

From nomadic camping to outdoor sledding, Scott Tay’s expeditions are all about the transformative power of experiential adventure travel. Guiding travellers to less chartered territories such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Ladakh, he is determined to be a real-life Indiana Jones of sorts. NSMan chats with the founder of Beyond Expeditions about his journeys.

How Did You Get Started In This Business?

Since I was a teenager, I have always been fascinated by the exploration of places that are off the beaten path. So in the year after I left polytechnic, I went on my first backpacking trip to Europe. It changed my life. I caught the travel bug and, since then, I’ve explored – whether solo or with a buddy – far-off places such as Uzbekistan, Georgia, Papua and Kazakhstan, among others. And it dawned on me: If there are truly so many such far-flung places to see and experience beside the conventional tourist destinations, why not share this spirit of adventure and travelling with others?

Why The Focus On Destinations Such As Mongolia And Kazakhstan?

In all honesty, these places feel like “home”. For example, I love Mongolia for its vastness and the feeling of freedom it arouses in me, and Kazakhstan for its diversity of ethnicity.

Your Expeditions Are To Destinations That Are Off The Beaten Track. Why Are More Singaporeans Embarking On Such Trips?

I think Singaporeans are tired of going to conventional touristy destinations, and they now want a different cultural and travel experience. The other reason is that there’s a group who just enjoy being in remote places and crave first-hand interaction with the locals.

Name An Expedition You Led That Left The Greatest Impression On You.

That would certainly be the charity expedition in 2018 to the Gobi Desert that I helped organised to raise funds and cancer awareness for the Singapore Cancer Society. There, we experienced harsh, unpredictable weather and endured hundreds of kilometres of off-road bumpy rides; stuck vans that needed an entire village’s effort to rescue; uncomfortable outback conditions; crazy, pesky sand-flies bites; fatigue and painful blisters. There were 19 of us on that expedition, including four cancer survivors. In retrospect, the journey is a parallel of what cancer patients have to face in their daily battles – from the physical torment to the mental strain.

How It Is Like To Create A New Expedition Itinerary?

It’s really interesting but tedious. We have to be on the ground several times to carry out recces. Also, expeditions that require more logistical support would take a much longer time to work on before fruition. On top of that, we always try to go the extra mile when curating a new expedition. For instance, we have been told that husky sleddings in Mongolia are usually conducted for a maximum of 20km for tourists. But we wanted to go beyond that distance, hence we thought about creating a three-day husky sledding expedition during which participants can spend more time with the huskies.

This Is Our Year-End “Party” Issue. What Do You Think Are The Key Ingredients For A Good Party?

Good company, great music and lots of laughter.

Why Do You Think It’s Important To Party And Let Your Hair Down?

It’s a great way to let go of all your stress and unwind – especially for those who are building their dreams day in, day out. I think a good party can be revitalising. And I’m not just talking about clubbing.

Tell Us About One Of The Most Memorable Parties You’ve Had During An Expedition.

It was on a trip to the Gobi Desert last summer. On our first day of trekking, we experienced one of the worst floods ever in Mongolia and our vehicles were stuck for close to four hours. After giving everything we’ve got, we realised that there was nothing more we could do in that situation. In the end, our drivers decided to take out their vodka to keep warm, and we started partying in the rain, while simultaneously trying to push our vehicles out of the mud. That was definitely some memorable party.

Christmas Is Just Around The Corner. What Can You Tell Us About Your Reindeer Expeditions?

It’ll be a magical winter wonderland in northern Mongolia. There are less than 40 Tsaatan reindeer herders left there, and they thrive far up north, just below Russia in the Taiga region. To reach them, participants would have to ride on a horse from five to eight hours across the vast steppes and into the mystical woods where cars cannot access. You will most probably be one of the few expedition groups there in the winter who will get up close with the reindeers – more than 50 of them! Not forgetting plenty of late-night campfires and star-gazing.

What Are Some Of Your New Projects Going Forward?

More charity expeditions to spread more awareness and raise more funds for the less fortunate! I’m thinking of taking cancer survivors to cross the largest frozen lake in Mongolia by foot in 2021. I’m also looking at new expeditions to Papua, Borneo and Kyrgyzstan, all of which are pretty rugged, with strong cultures.