Trekking 800km across Mongolia
Scott Tay cuts an eclectic figure dressed in t-shirt and cut-offs, paired with a piercing in each earlobe as well as his right nostril. He flashes me a wide smile when he sees me approaching, and springs up to greet me with a sturdy handshake. This is the man who exudes confidence and has an air of a seasoned traveller—since 19, Scott has travelled close to 30 countries.
At 25, and a wealth of experiences under his belt, he is also the brains behind Beyond Expeditions. Currently, Scott is preparing for his upcoming expedition in Mongolia in July. Over the course of 24 days, he will be walking 800km across Mongolia, passing through the great Gobi Desert where temperatures can soar up to 40°C.
“Of course I had to do it in July when it’s the hottest! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge,” he quips. Through the expedition, Scott also seeks to raise $10,000 for the Singapore Cancer Society. Having lost his late grandfather to lung cancer, Scott feels that this is a good way to remember him as a form of tribute. Although the expedition hasn’t even begun, Scott is already making waves in Singapore with his fundraiser. Whilst travelling the world is something that most can only dream of, Scott risks it all to make them come true.
Q: Why did you start travelling?
A: I wanted to see the world. Living in Singapore really limits our world view because it is so small. There are so many opportunities out there, but we just don’t see it. Also, a lot of people are driven by money, and I don’t think you will be truly happy with that at the end of the day. What drives me is travelling off the beaten path, and to see what the world has to offer.
Q: How did you fund your trips?
A: After I completed my National Service, I worked full-time as a project executive while completing my degree. I saved up quite a bit, wanting to backpack for two years. That was before I met my girlfriend, and subsequently, it got reduced to just a year. [laughs] While travelling, I bought things unique to each country to resell, like saffron from Iran. But I got sick of doing that because it defeated my original purpose of travelling, which was to immerse myself in the place and interact with the people. It became more like a business transaction, where every country I went, I started scouting for the most profitable thing to sell. I knew I had to move on from that mindset before I lose myself.
Q: How did you get the idea to do a fundraising expedition?
A: In April, I was reflecting a lot on myself after backpacking for six months. I remember I was alone in a traditional ger in Mongolia. As I was looking at the ceiling, suddenly it hit me; that something has to stop. The scenery, vast mountains and clear lakes… started to look the same. I suppose it’s different when you are working, and you travel maybe three or four times a year, as compared to continuously travelling for six months. I experienced an unexpected burnout. So, I wanted to find the drive to do something bigger and make a difference, and I chanced upon a story about a man who walked across Mongolia for fifty days to raise funds. And it struck me that I could do something similar—I was very close to my late grandfather, whom I lost to lung cancer, and what better way to remember him than to raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society?
Q: What do you hope to achieve?
A: I hope it can serve as an encouragement for cancer patients to keep fighting, to not give up, and approach every single day with a positive spirit. I want them to know that there are so many people out there supporting them with their fight against cancer, and I want to go the extra mile to help them regardless of their financial situation.
Q: You mentioned that you will be doing the expedition alone. How do you cope with being alone in the wilderness?
A: Initially, I had planned to do it alone. However, a close friend, who is a local tour guide, heard about my plans and warned me of the risks of running into wolf packs at night. She suggested to turn it into a “supported” expedition instead, where she will be driving ahead of me. I am not worried about the walking, but I guess I’ve been watching too many movies and got a little spooked!
Q: What is the hardest thing about the expedition?
A: It can be difficult to get sponsors from big companies to ease the cost of the trip, since this expedition is pretty last minute. However, I am really thankful that Terrainware is sponsoring some of the equipment.
Q: What is Beyond Expeditions about?
A: Beyond Expeditions is a community of like-minded individuals advocating others to travel off the beaten path to places like Mongolia and Nepal. In August, I will be bringing a group of people to Mongolia to visit the reindeer nomads.
Q: Why Mongolia?
A: I really enjoy the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongolians. However, there aren’t that many of them left as most have moved to the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Also, the vast wilderness and untouched beauty of the land does fascinate me. Just imagine: standing in a vast space with nothing around you for miles and miles, and feeling like the only person in the world. There is a sense of freedom and euphoria that comes with it. Mongolia is not the only place though, we also encourage people to visit places like Nepal. I visited Nepal last year, and I really fell in love with the place too.
Q: How many countries have you travelled to?
A: Close to 30 countries. To me, travelling is not about checking off the boxes. Some people travel to the capital of each country and move on to the next. I like to immerse myself in the country, experience the beauty of nature and interact with the people there. That is why I keep returning to places like India and Mongolia again and again.
Q: What would be your ideal destination?
A: I would love to conquer Mount Everest someday. I would also like to do a polar expedition in Greenland. I might get mauled by polar bears, so learning how to protect myself would be useful.
Q: Have you ever had a close encounter with death?
A: I fell terribly sick during my Everest base camp trek last December. I think I had food poisoning, and even though I brought my own medication, it wasn’t strong enough. It was very cold at the base camp, and I couldn’t even lie down to sleep as my stomach was churning so badly. Imagine having to waddle along the alley to use the toilet, in complete agony. Even though I was alone, the people I met were very friendly. A Nepali doctor leading another expedition saw me and gave me some medication. Thankfully, I felt much better the next day.
Q: That sounds like quite an ordeal. Do your parents get worried about your travels?
A: I try to purchase SIM cards that come with bundled data to keep in contact with my family while I’m overseas. Although they were worried for my safety when I was travelling to Pakistan and Bangladesh, I won over their trust after they realised that it wasn’t as dangerous as it seemed. They are really supportive of my upcoming expedition and are proud that I am giving back to society in my own way.
Q: In your many years of travelling, what do you think is the biggest risk of travelling off the beaten path?
A: You have to learn to adapt. When you travel alone, you are forced out of your comfort zone. Not only do you have to adapt to your physical environment, you also have to learn how to speak up and ask questions. When you are in a foreign land, you have no idea what lies ahead of you. It is always better and smarter to ask the locals. Take risks, but be smart about it.