This was included as part of our 3 centre trip to Thailand, so was not sure what to expect! As an individual I now feel I know and appreciate more about the fantastic mammals. I am only Joe public, so my experience of the entire day a good 4-5 hours, feeding, a show, a trek up and down a steep hill, lovely Thai dinner, and tranquil raft ride was brill. The elephants were in their environment and are hugely powerful beasts and need a means of control surely so the wooden stick with metal hook is a means of that control possibly? The tribe thing was a bit naff admittedly didn't feel authentic, what did was returning from the hill to dinner, the guy riding an elephant behind us noticed I had dropped a lens hood off my camera. His elephant simply on instruction picked it up so delicately via his trunk off the floor and placed it in my hands, WOW :-) so impressive.
I came away feeling overall I'd helped to sustain a small community, overall it felt very authentic and real to me.